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Two years after Beachie Creek Fire, town of Detroit continues to rebuild

KGW took a tour of Detroit with the town's mayor, Jim Trett, to see what progress has been made since the Beachie Creek Fire.

DETROIT, Oregon — The Beachie Creek Fire tore through parts of Marion County in 2020, leaving behind a trail of devastation. The wildfire killed at least five people, decimated thousands of structures and burned nearly 200,000 acres.

The Santiam Canyon was one of the areas hit the hardest, and the wildfire largely destroyed the town of Detroit, near Detroit Lake.

Now, two years later, the recovery effort has been slow but steady. KGW recently took a tour of Detroit with the town's mayor, Jim Trett, to see what progress has been made.

Many buildings have been constructed since the wildfire including a new location for city hall.

"This is our new civic center, which is kind of the cornerstone of the rebuild. The visual cornerstone, anyway, of the rebuild of Detroit," said Trett during the tour. "It'll house our new city hall. We have two bays for fire apparatus from the local fire district."

The building opened in June and will function as a gathering place for the community and the new city hall.

Credit: KGW
Detroit's new civic center, which houses city hall, opened in June 2022.

OTHER STORIES: Family moves into new home as Detroit rebuilds after wildfires

A gym that used to be a part of an old high school nearby is now attached to the civic center. It has been revamped, but championship banners from decades ago still hang on the walls.

"Up there is kind of a connection to the past," Trett said about the banners.

Trett is proud of how far the city has come, considering the level of destruction that happened two years ago. About 80% of the roughly 600 buildings in the town burned —  many of them homes or businesses.

"Everything you're looking at here has been built after the fires. This whole area was just totally decimated," said Trett.

While people are in varying stages of the rebuilding process and some lots are for sale, homes are going up.

"People are telling us it's coming back faster than they usually see," Trett said.

Credit: KGW

When it comes to the economy, Trett is hopeful. Water recreation at Detroit Lake is a popular draw to the city, and Trett called the lake their "economic base." He said when people store their boats in the two marinas and recreate on the lake, they're also more likely to wander into town, shop and grab a bite to eat.

In the small downtown area, food carts are popping up along the main street. The wildfires were devastating for residents and business owners alike, but customers are slowly coming back and showing their support as restaurants open.

After a day having fun outside, Zach Pickett and his family stopped by Suzy's Taqueria. 

"If we can give back, we will because they were devastated by the [wildfire]. So hopefully they can recover and we can help just by a little bit," Pickett said.

Credit: KGW

Trett said once Marion County breaks ground next spring and a new septic system is up and running, more businesses are expected to set up brick-and-mortar shops. 

A new $7 million water treatment system, paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is also on the horizon.

"We still figure eight years, maybe a little bit more, for everything to really come back to some semblance of normal. But we're we're seeing progress every day … we'll hit hiccups but we keep working," Trett said.

OTHER STORIES: Volunteers build sheds for Beachie Creek Fire survivors

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