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Voters fight through wildfire challenges to vote

Posted at 2:23 PM, Oct 30, 2020

To truly understand a disaster’s mark, step through its remains with those whose lives it's ripped apart.

"The fire affected everyone," said Gladis Garcia. "You're white, you're Latino, whatever you are, that doesn't matter."

The final views from Garcia’s house were of wildfire flames closing in on your neighborhood in September. The flames would take her home and much of her small town of Phoenix, Oregon.

She stands by what was her doorstep, searching for belongings buried in the ash, with Virginia Camberos by her side.

“I would be lying if I say I’m doing alright," Camberos said.

Camberos’ home survived the wildfire, but many in the Latino community she advocates for, lost everything.

“The way that I find my strength is I believe there is something better for us," she said.

While strength can take time, Election Day here waits for no one.

"How are we going to get the ballots?" Camberos asked. "How are we going to get to the homes? I mean, you see all this destruction and devastation."

Oregon mailed ballots to addresses as clean-up continued, creating potential challenges for those now without homes or mailboxes, like Erica Ramirez.

"To me, it was worth a lot," Ramirez said of her home of 13 years that burned into a pile of metal.

The state provided a website to help answer questions for voters displaced by the flames.

The fire has taken so much, but not her right as an American citizen to vote in her first presidential election.

"I am going to vote until God gives me life and strength to do so," she said.

Ramirez had her ballot sent to a temporary address, which is legal in Oregon, a process helping many voters who are unsure of where they will live next.

For Camberos, as an organizer with Unite Oregon, her focus is on making sure this area’s large Latino population is heard. She says many Latino voters will be casting ballots for the first time. She posted voter information fliers across the area in both English and Spanish.

"It's important to connect with my community and to say, ‘We are fighting for our lives right now. We need to make change,’” she said.

Change is on the minds of many impacted by the fire.

“I personally believe in climate change, said Ramon De La Cruz, who lost his home of 16 years in the fire.

"It was very difficult seeing all of this.”

His story is of the kind of loss that is now all too common across the West, but amid the rubble and pain is hope some of the worst wildfires in U.S. history won’t stop Americans here from using their power to write the next chapter.

"These are issues that are going to affect you, or maybe not even you, but maybe your children or the next generation," Camberos said.