‘Worse than fighting the fire’: Molalla resident frustrated over FEMA application denials after wildfire

Cristopher Centers

Kait Smith has been frustrated with a lack of answers from agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency. MOLALLA, Oregon — Kait Smith said the last two weeks have felt like a year. She remembers the moment she saw flames from the Beachie Creek wildfire outside her window in the […]

Kait Smith has been frustrated with a lack of answers from agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

MOLALLA, Oregon — Kait Smith said the last two weeks have felt like a year.

She remembers the moment she saw flames from the Beachie Creek wildfire outside her window in the early morning hours of Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2020, and called the non-emergency line for help.

“I gave her the location and she said, ‘You need to put the phone down and leave right now’. She’s like, get out,” said Smith.

Smith lives in a small community called Elk Prairie near Molalla on the border of Clackamas and Marion counties.

She said the fire was still threatening homes in her neighborhood two days later and posted a plea for volunteers on Facebook.

“I don’t know like a hundred guys showed up in trucks, like pickup trucks with sprayers on the back and saved, saved our community,” said Smith.

Smith said it was her turn to try and help her neighbors.

“So, the way that I felt that I could give back to my community is to help them navigate the FEMA process because it is a bureaucratic nightmare,” said Smith who talked to us from a charter school turned donation center.

Smith knows how to match resources to the people who need them and how to apply for federal grants through her work with nonprofits. 

Oregon was approved for federal disaster assistance, meaning victims can get money for temporary housing, home repairs, or low-cost loans.

Smith helped a neighbor, who lost his home and is currently in the hospital, through the FEMA application process and was denied twice. 

“Even if that is inaccurate and for some reason, we’re doing it wrong, we’ve begged for an actual FEMA resource coordinator and have received no response,” said Smith.

According to FEMA’s website, there is a response team in Oregon working with the Office of Emergency Management.

Smith wants to see them in the communities hardest hit.

“We just seem to be hitting brick walls at every turn,” said Smith. 

Smith has set up an email to coordinate resources. If you need help or you’d like to donate contact them at [email protected]

A FEMA spokesperson sent us a breakdown of financial assistance and information for people if they are denied.

RELATED: Volunteers step up to help people in need during Oregon’s fires

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