SALEM, Ore. — State and federal agencies confirmed on Friday that fire debris clean-up operations will begin in Jackson County on October 19, marking the beginning of wildfire debris removal throughout the state of Oregon.
The Almeda Fire left a trail of destruction from the north end of Ashland and through Talent and Phoenix — demolishing thousands of homes, businesses, and other structures. The South Obenchain Fire also destroyed a number of structures along Butte Falls Highway.
According to Jackson County's damage assessments, the two fires accounted for 2,666 properties that were completely destroyed. The vast majority of those — 2,491 by the County's reckoning — were considered residential structures. 171 were commercial properties. By contrast, very few properties saw only major or minor damage.
The acting director of the Jackson County Emergency Operations Center, John Vial, said earlier this week that the anticipated debris removal would begin in mid-October. He cautioned displaced residents against trying to begin clean-up themselves.
"There are several reasons for that. The debris may contain hazardous materials such as asbestos, heavy metals, and other toxic items," Vial said. "There are hazardous trees in many of these sites and other structural hazards on the property."
The Oregon Office of Emergency Management underlined in a statement that debris removal will be free of charge for property owners, and removal of any hazardous waste and debris is required before rebuilding can occur.
"Cleanup crews plan to begin operations in Jackson County the week of October 19 and will expand to the other counties shortly afterward, pending the completion by property owners of 'Right of Entry' (ROE) access agreements that will allow cleanup crews onto their property," the agency said.
The ROE for a property must be signed before the clean-up process can begin. To prepare for filling out the forms, property owners are asked to identify their property parcel number from their county tax assessor’s office and collect insurance information. In Jackson County, at least some of this can be done through the Fire Assessment Dashboard.
How the process will work
STEP 1: Household hazardous waste removal – No cost to property owner
- Once a property owner completes an ROE form with their county, crews will evaluate the property for any overhead hazards (impacted trees) or other physical hazards and conduct air monitoring and visual observations to identify locations of household hazardous waste.
- Crews will then remove those items from the property for safe disposal.
STEP 2: Ash and debris removal
- Cleanup crews then will remove burned-out structures—possibly including building foundations—ash and other debris.
- When this step is complete, property owners will be able to begin the rebuilding process.
- State, county and federal partners are actively working to develop funding and implementation options for Step 2: Ash and debris removal.
OEM said that the state, county, and federal governments are still "working to develop funding" and plans for Step 2, implying that property owners may have to wait an indefinite amount of time before they can attempt to rebuild.