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'A sense of hope for the future': Support group helps Santiam Canyon wildfire survivors heal one year after historic fires

In April, the meetings began as a safe space to vent and grieve. It soon evolved into a space to share information, contacts, break-throughs and triumphs.

STAYTON, Oregon — It's been one year since massive wildfires ravaged communities across Oregon.

In the Santiam Canyon survivors still try to recover and rebuild their lives. For twenty or so of them, a support group helps in the healing.

One night a week at Foothills Church in Stayton, you can find a diverse group of people with something in common— something they wish they didn't share.

A year ago, flames took Bruce Bailey's and Kathleen Becherer's home east of Gates. Brandon and Rechelle Kirk lost their home on North Fork Road in Elkhorn.

"We all suffered some sort of loss last year—a year ago in the fire— whether it was an outbuilding, home, or just having to evacuate," Brandon Kirk said.

RELATED: Some Oregon wildfire survivors rebuilding homes

"[We're] putting one step each day in front of the next and moving forward," Bailey added.

Both families are now rebuilding their homes and lives. They've both learned that as essential to the process as any money or materials is each other.

"People love this area. They love the Santiam Canyon," Bailey said, "They have a real connectedness, a real sense of community here."

The families are part of a group of wildfire survivors that gets together for support and counseling each week.

Every member of the group experienced some form of trauma due to last September's fires.

RELATED: How a 10-acre fire became one of the most devastating wildfires in Oregon history

In April, the meetings began as a safe space to vent and grieve.

"There's been no judgment," Becherer said. "You realize it's just stuff, you just lost stuff."

The counseling group soon evolved into a space to share information, contacts, break-throughs and triumphs.

"The first thing we do is share good news," Becherer said. "It just became this sharing resources and eating together and knowing we were safe."

"Any sort of road blocks we've had been good to bounce ideas off each other and a lot of people have ways around it or what's worked for them," Rechelle Kirk said.

Marion County facilitates the group, providing meals and any support people need like mental health supports, child care or food boxes. 

They've given survivors the reins on the meetings.

"It's really this neighbor helping neighbor, being there for one another, caring about one another. And you could feel that spirit between people in the group," Bailey told KGW, "This is very critical because it created a positive energy that gave people a sense of hope for the future."

For many survivors the group has motivated them to rebuild and stay in the community.

On the one-year anniversary of the Beachie Creek and Lionshead fires, smoke again settles in the Santiam Canyon from a nearby fire. But now, this group knows they can lean on each other.

"We've reached out to our wildfire survivors in this group just to check in and make sure they're doing OK from this weekend," Rechelle said. "It kind of digs up some new emotions so we're gonna definitely continue."

Watch more wildfire coverage here

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