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Recovery from Mill Fire in Weed hampered by ongoing lawsuit

In a kitchen-like room, a group of people are unpacking and sorting boxes of fruits and vegetables onto tables.
Siskiyou Food Assistance
Volunteers at Siskiyou Food Assistance in 2018.

Outreach for survivors of the Mill Fire in Weed has been made more difficult by an ongoing lawsuit against the company alleged to have caused the fire.

While cleanup is ongoing, help for survivors has turned out to be more difficult than during previous disasters, according to Denise Spayd, executive director of Siskiyou Food Assistance, a food bank in Weed.

Among the biggest issues is a lack of information being shared between organizations. Spayd says the pending lawsuit between wildfire victims and Roseburg Forest Products, the company accused of starting the fire, has led groups including California’s Office of Emergency Services and the Red Cross to restrict access to contact information for victims.

“It’s been kind of scattered, and a little bit crazy in terms of trying to organize a central place to have communication with them and make sure all of their needs are being met," Spayd said.

Siskiyou Food Assistance has been working with the Family & Community Resource Center in Weed to get connected with victims who need help. However, organization was much better after the 2014 Boles Fire, according to Spayd.

The Mill Fire destroyed 118 structures and killed two people in early September. It destroyed a large part of the community of Lincoln Heights.

According to the Siskiyou County Office of Emergency Services, 30 of the 88 properties affected have been cleaned up.

Despite typically serving around half the residents in Lincoln Heights prior to the fire, Siskiyou Food Assistance says it’s seen far fewer residents visit their food pantry.

Victims have had access to gift cards from non-profits, and Roseburg Forest Products set aside $50 million in a community fund for those affected.

“Apparently they’re getting taken care of some other way, through the Office of Emergency Services through the state of California or maybe the gift cards. I don’t know,” said Spayd.

In general, the food bank has seen an increase in demand. Volunteers gave out 250 Thanksgiving meal kits to families in need this week. Spayd says the rising cost of groceries has pushed more families to seek out assistance in recent months.

After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the west coast.