Stevenson-Carson students respond to community need during Gorge fires

With wildfire threatening neighbors’ homes and communities during the September Columbia River Gorge fires, over 70 students in the Stevenson-Carson School District worked with community volunteers to care for more than 200 evacuated pets.

On September 5, 2017, an ember from the Eagle Creek Fire burning south of Cascade Locks, Oregon jumped the Columbia River and ignited the Archer Mountain Fire. Residents from the west end of Skamania County were evacuated and the American Red Cross set up a shelter for evacuees at the Hegewald Center in Stevenson, Washington.

The problem? “When people are told ‘grab your most important possessions’ pets are the first to come, and the Red Cross shelter strictly enforced a ‘no pets’ policy,” says Coby Wright, a community volunteer who operated a temporary animal shelter during the fire.

Fortunately for the evacuated families, the Red Cross shelter was located on the edge of the Skamania County Fairgrounds, which has livestock barns. As Wright and other community members were problem-solving the situation, he says, “an official came by and pointed at our de facto leader, Jean Foster—long-time community member—and said, “You are in charge of getting this set up as an animal shelter.’”

The animal shelter sent out requests on social media for crates, food, leashes, bowls, bedding, and, most importantly human volunteers. The response from Stevenson-Carson students was overwhelming. Dozens of students showed up during one school closure day and outside of school hours for several weeks to help take care of the animals, which included dogs, cats, chickens, turtles, ducks, pigs, goats and a guinea pig! Students unloaded donations of supplies, cleaned cat litter boxes, collected eggs, took goats for walks and even helped to tear down the shelter when the evacuation was lifted.

According to Wright, SCSD students were at the shelter every single day for the 17 days the shelter was operational, and one high school student in particular was instrumental to the shelter’s daily operations. “I want to give special recognition to Codie Livingston,” says Wright. “He was there nearly every day always with his tool box and willing to do anything. He built chicken coops and pens and even rescued a chicken who escaped from the coop. He walked dogs, scooped poop, picked up garbage and cleaned up dinner dishes too.”

Stevenson-Carson Superintendent Karen Douglass is also proud of Codie and the other student volunteers. She says, “The Eagle Creek Fire and the Archer Mountain Fire will not be forgotten; our students will forever have the tragic loss of our beautiful forests etched into their minds. I also won’t forget the dancing flames or the smoked filled days, but what I will focus on is how our community came together for one another and our Cascade Locks neighbors with some of my students leading the way.”