OR Chief Surprised with $10K after Losing Homes to Wildfire

Sept. 21, 2020
During her talk show, Drew Barrymore presented the check to Upper McKenzie Fire Chief Christiana Rainbow Plews, who stayed with her crews even after losing her two homes to the Holiday Farm Fire.

Actress Drew Barrymore, touched by Upper McKenzie Fire and Rescue Chief Christiana Rainbow Plews' commitment to her community amid the loss of her own homes in Vida from the Holiday Farm Fire, on Monday presented a $10,000 check to her on her TV talk show.

Pastene, the Italian specialty foods company in North America, provided the money.

Barrymore made the presentation on her “Drew Barrymore Show,” which aired Monday.

Barrymore asked Plews how she focuses on her work as chief as her own family is struggling with such a significant loss.

“Somebody has to do it,” Plews said. “Somebody has to lead and help and get the healing and rebuilding process started, and I am the Chief, and I am in the position to impact that, so I just have to be strong. And I have to do it for everyone else and hopefully we can all find our way."

Barrymore thanked Plews “for being the example to us all.”

“I know it’s not enough but just a little start to say that you are an inspiration to us all,” Drew Barrymore told Plews.

Plews, 50, has served as chief of the volunteer department since October 2018 but has been a firefighter since 1991.

She responded about 8:30 p.m. on Labor Day, Sept. 8, to a report of a downed power line and brush fire at milepost 47 of the McKenzie Highway. By 1 a.m. the next morning, she ordered the evacuation of Blue River, Vida, Nimrod and Leaburg along a 20-mile stretch of the McKenzie River east of Eugene-Springfield. She also had called it in as a conflagration and demanded statewide help. Plews remained with her crews until that Wednesday night, even after learning her two homes in Vida had been destroyed. Her husband and two sons had safely evacuated at her insistence and were staying in a hotel in downtown Eugene.

Plews has been working to help other community members and her own volunteer firefighters, who also lost their homes in the fire.

In turn, community agencies and area businesses have raised money for Plews and the fire district.

7 Devils Brewing Co., owned by Plews' brother, for example, conducted a "rapid-response fundraiser'' to help the Upper McKenzie fire district. The district’s Blue River station was also consumed by flames and destroyed. 7 Devils raised $1,350 for the Upper McKenzie Fire Department by donating 50% of the sales of growler and bomber fills and tuna melts. Customers also donated an additional $4,600 in cash, half of which was donated to a fire fund benefiting families who lost their homes in the Talent and Phoenix areas, and the other half went to the Upper McKenzie Fire Department.

“Our gratitude is endless. We are so thankful for all the support,” the chief wrote on her Facebook page on Sunday.

The chief has posted on Facebook donations that have come from elsewhere in the state, and are being made available at the Upper McKenzie Community center, including food, water, masks and other supplies. She’s also posted pleas for assistance for some of her volunteer firefighters, such as Thomas Maddock, who lost his home and has been a volunteer firefighter in the McKenzie Valley for more than 46 years.

“Thomas is a dear friend and mentor,” the chief wrote. “He not only fought the Holiday Fire from the beginning but then spent the next week feeding animals left behind including my own cats, goat and chickens... If you know of a place for home please reach out.”

The chief’s son Kiger Plews, reached by phone Monday, said that his mom had left their hotel to “go to the front lines."

-- Maxine Bernstein

Email at [email protected]; 503-221-8212

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