Some residents in Crook County’s rural neighborhoods are snowed in and running low on food and heat, and while private citizens use their own snowmobiles to help stranded neighbors, county officials have requested help from the state to dig them out.
Crook County Court members signed off on declaring a local emergency Tuesday, asking the state for money, equipment and manpower to help plow rural roads that the county doesn’t maintain. Some of these roads, which residents said have been covered in snow drifts up to 8 feet deep over the last several days, simply aren’t accessible and people who live in neighborhoods including Juniper Acres and Prineville Lake Acres can’t leave to get supplies, Crook County Judge Seth Crawford said.
“We don’t have the ability to move out to the noncounty maintained roads,” he said, noting that this is the first time such an emergency declaration has been put in place because of snow but that it’s happened before because of fire and drought. “It’s the people who are getting low on resources, food, heat and water — maybe around 100 people. This is an emergency, and we need to take care of it.”
Crawford clarified that he doesn’t know how many of these stranded people actually need assistance, and he said he hasn’t gotten word from the state on whether or not the county’s emergency request would be granted. Crook County Undersheriff James Savage said the sheriff’s office has been contacted about delivering supplies, but it “hasn’t been inundated with calls.”
Meanwhile, in the rural neighborhoods residents have taken matters into their own hands. Maya Bamer, who lives in Juniper Acres, an off-the-grid subdivision 20 miles southwest of Prineville, has been using social media to keep in touch with people who need help.
“It’s crazy right now,” she said. “We have about 270 families living in Juniper Acres, and this is the worst snow that we’ve seen in 20 years, or that’s what some oldtimers are saying. We’re getting donations for food and propane to bring to these people who can’t get out.”
Snowmobiles that neighborhood residents bought this week are used to deliver the donated goods to the snowed-in families, she said, and people can ask for help on the Facebook group she set up.
And while the independent effort is having an impact, she said the fact that it’s needed at all is causing frustration among some people.
“The county won’t clear the roads,” Brandi Selkirk, who’s been delivering food and propane to people in Juniper Acres, said. “We are our own search and rescue.”
Crook County Search and Rescue has gone out on snowmobiles three times over the past few days, Savage said — twice for welfare checks and to bring supplies to people and once to help transport someone with a medical issue to a hospital.
“If you need to be rescued we’ll send search and rescue out,” he said, adding that the sheriff’s office can’t continue to bring food and propane to people due to lack of resources. If people need help with supplies, officers can bring them to a shelter.
“We contacted the Red Cross, and they will set up a shelter if needed. We haven’t had anybody that’s needed to go to a shelter, though.”
Monique Dugaw, communication director for the American Red Cross in Oregon, said that the organization hadn’t opened any shelters in Central Oregon as of Tuesday, but it’s “ready if needed.”
Selkirk said there’s a disconnect between what Crook County Search and Rescue wants to do — evacuate people to a shelter — and what residents need: supplies. Many people don’t want to be evacuated, she said, because they don’t want to abandon their animals.
“We’ve got chickens, pigs, and horses out here,” she said. “The emergency declaration is a great step, but these people need supplies and they need the roads cleared.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7829,