$35,600 in donations after fire at Oak Knoll

Donations totaling $35,600 were divided and distributed to Oak Knoll fire victims following the destructive Aug. 24 blaze, enabling many to get back on their feet but leaving others still struggling, officials and fire victims said this week.

While five families already have moved into their rebuilt homes, two haven't even begun construction.

"Everything hit at the same time — the fire, the economy," said Brian Patterson, who was renting 825 Oak Knoll Drive from his parents and living with his 11-year-old son. "Fortunately, I was able to go out to my parents' place, but the fire definitely changed a lot of things in my life."

The Firehouse 5 Foundation raised the majority of the money for the victims in the weeks and months after the fire. The Oak Knoll blaze was Ashland's worst residential fire in at least a century, burning 11 houses within about 15 minutes.

The nonprofit collected $29,000 and distributed $25,300 of it to the 11 affected families, said Kaelynn McEvoy, foundation president. A check for an additional $2,500 was given to one family because the donor requested that the money be earmarked for that family, she said.

The remainder of the money, about $1,200, was given to a man who was renting a room from one of the families and didn't have renters insurance.

Donations came not just from Ashland, but from throughout Oregon and even other states, McEvoy said.

"It was amazing how far reaching it was," she said. "It wasn't just our community — it was statewide and multiple states even jumped in."

A U.S. Bank account set up to collect donations for fire victims brought in $6,600, said Rachel Dials, who helped set up the account because her cousin was affected by the fire. Small amounts of that money were allocated to specific households that requested immediate help with basic needs, such as cleaning clothes, she said.

The remainder of the funds was distributed evenly between the 12 households, with each family receiving about $450, Dials said.

"Right after the fire there was a huge outpouring from the community," she said. "People were generous for months with donating money and items."

Dials also helped rent a storage unit for a few months where fire victims could choose from donated furniture, clothing and household items. All of the families stopped by the storage unit to select some items, she said.

The cash donations helped victims cover basic needs in the weeks following the fire, before insurance payments kicked in, said Dan Thomas, who moved into his rebuilt home at 897 Oak Knoll Drive last month.

"At the time that was really, really helpful, because when you lose everything, you've got to buy toothbrushes and everything else," he said. "This helped you get by until the insurance could get its act together."

Thomas said just knowing that so many people were supporting the fire victims provided an emotional lift during that dark time.

"We were totally blessed," he said. "People we didn't even know were doing fundraisers for us."

While most of the benefits and fundraisers in the weeks after the fire were successful, at least one didn't end up raising as much money as organizers had hoped.

Patterson held a music benefit in October at Ashland Middle School, which cost $1,500 to organize but only brought in $600. Still, he said the support he received at the event was heartwarming.

"It was more of a spiritual thing, and I think it was a success just by having it," he said.

Firehouse 5 also used some of its own funds to purchase about $3,500 worth of gift certificates, which it divided between the 11 affected families to help them purchase groceries and everyday needs, McEvoy said.

To help replenish its coffers, the foundation will hold a golf tournament and barbecue June 4 at the Oak Knoll Golf Course.

"This will enable us to keep giving to the community," McEvoy said.

The morning round of golf begins at 9 a.m. and the afternoon round at 1 p.m. Each round costs $200 for four golfers and includes the barbecue lunch. Non-golfers can also attend the lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., which will feature entertainment and a raffle.

For more information on the benefit or to purchase tickets, call 541-821-4170 or e-mail fire5found@yahoo.com.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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