The Oregon Wildfires Inspired Me to Help, The Oregon Spirit Left Me in Awe

Story and photos by Anne Stearns / Red Cross Cascades Region

Red Cross Volunteer Anne Stearns, September 2020. Submitted photo.

My name is Anne Stearns and I was one of Disaster Health Services Supervisors for the wildfire disaster relief operation in Oregon.

I am a paramedic and live on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts. However, Oregon is close to my heart, as I lived in Eugene from March to August 2020. 

I have been volunteering with the Red Cross since 2017 and have traveled extensively to help those impacted by disasters. I was in Texas for Hurricane Harvey, Iowa after the tornadoes in 2018, and in Texas in this past August after Hurricane Laura. 

I can’t say there is any one thing that inspired me to volunteer with the Red Cross. As a paramedic it’s my job to help people, it’s who I am. I thought that I could help people this way.

When I saw the wildfires that were impacting Oregon, my heart was broken. In the seven months that I lived there, I completely fell in love with the state. The people, the mountains, the ocean, just absolutely everything. I knew that I needed to help, it wasn’t a choice, I was going.

Photo by Anne Stearns, September 2020. Submitted photo.

When I arrived, I instantly felt there was just something different about this disaster. I met so many people from Oregon, who had decided to help through the Red Cross. I watched them work at the headquarters in Salem, and it was clear they couldn’t wait to get out to help their neighbors.

The pride that you all have for Oregon is awesome. My favorite thing was when anybody not from the area, would say Oregon (on) the wrong way, at which point everyone including myself, would emphatically say, Oregon (gun)

On my day off, I drove up to the communities of Detroit and Gates to talk with neighbors and heard their stories of survival. Their spirit, their strength, their absolute love for each other, just blew me away.

Neighbors helping each other, going out of their way to help. People setting up stations where if anybody needed anything they could come to the station and get what they needed. Some people lost everything but all they were focused on was helping the people who lost everything as well.

Photo by Anne Stearns, September 2020. Submitted photo.

Even though this disaster is out of the national headlines, it’s not over for those who experienced it.

Your stories are just beginning, you will rebuild, you are stronger and most importantly, you are not victims, you are survivors. 

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the absolute honor of assisting you during these trying times.