Phoenix and Talent lift boil water advisories as more residents return home

(Photo courtesy of Grant Wooley)

Both Phoenix and Talent have lifted boil water advisories put in place in the immediate aftermath of the Almeda Fire.

Posted: Sep 8, 2020 10:05 AM
Updated: Sep 16, 2020 6:18 PM


UPDATE: Both Phoenix and Talent have lifted boil water advisories put in place in the immediate aftermath of the Almeda Fire.

"Last week, during events of the Almeda fire, the water systems of the cities of Phoenix and Talent were depressurized due to a loss of power," officials said in a joint statement. "As a result, both cities issued boil water advisories warning that harmful bacteria could be present in their water supplies. These advisories were a precaution for customers to limit risk to health from any possible harmful bacteria"

Subsequent samples taken of the water in both cities show no signs of bacteria, officials continued. Regardless, residents of both towns should turn on their taps and flush water for about 10 minutes before using it.

Meanwhile, the Medford Water Commission has lifted an advisory that asked customers to curtail non-essential water use so that there would be plenty of water for emergencies and ordinary necessity. The original notification was sent on the night of the Almeda FIre, and it was reduced to "voluntary" last Thursday.

"Yesterday, Commission staff assessed the situation and determined that reductions are no longer necessary," the Medford Water Commission said on Tuesday.

The end of curtailment applies to all properties in Medford, Central Point, Eagle Point, Phoenix, Talent, Jacksonville, and White City.

"These actions were a precaution to preserve water for fire emergencies and necessary domestic use, and we appreciate the cooperation and sacrifice of our customers. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as they become necessary," the Commission said.

The City of Ashland is still under its own water curtailment, in effect since Monday, saying that weather and firefighting activities, among other factors, have ensured that the City cannot keep up with the current water demands.

(Updated 9/16/20 at 6:15 p.m.)

UPDATE: More areas of Phoenix will be opened up for residents to return this morning, according to Phoenix Mayor Chris Luz.

At 10 a.m., neighborhoods that were not affected by the fire, west of Highway 99, will be accessible to residents.

In order to access these areas, according to Phoenix Police chief Derek Bowker, residents will have to come in through the west side of town via Colver Road, entering on either 1st or 4th streets. Highway 99 remains closed through the area.

"The two main areas that remain closed west of Hwy 99 are the Barnum Subdivision and Cheryl Lane," Bowker said. "Burned out neighborhoods will remain closed with no access granted."

As of Wednesday morning, a boil water advisory remained in place for both Phoenix and Talent. Power has been brought back online in at least some areas, but it's unknown if electricity has been fully restored in the area.

(Updated 9/16/20 at 9:40 a.m.)

UPDATE: Search & Rescue crews continue to operate in the destroyed areas of Phoenix and Talent, with more accurate reports of the damage beginning to emerge.

With most operations having been done on the west side of Highway 99, the Urban Search & Rescue Team has evaluated 2,797 structures. 2,357 "residential structures" were destroyed, and 57 more damaged, according to the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.

Under Oregon's legal definition, a residential structure can mean a house, modular home, condominium unit, manufactured home or duplex, or an apartment building of four units or less.

About half of the total K9 search operations within the Almeda Fire have been completed.

"Tomorrow USAR will set up command post near S. Stage Road and begin working the Almeda Fire from North to South until it is complete," the Sheriff's Office said.

(Updated 9/15/20 at 4:33 p.m.)

UPDATE: The Almeda Drive Fire is completely contained as of Tuesday morning, according to Jackson County Emergency Management. While this does not necessarily mean that all portions of the fire are completely "out," it means that fire officials are fairly confident that it will not spread beyond the existing footprint.

Evacuation levels lowered somewhat on Monday, allowing more people to return home — particularly between S Stage Road and Glenwood.

This morning, the Oregon State Fire Marshal's team turned over leadership of firefighting efforts to local agencies.

"Almeda Drive Fire has transitioned to a stabilized phase of the incident. An Urban Search and Rescue Team, Utah Taskforce 1, with members from Utah and Nevada are conducting assessments, hazard mitigation as well as detailed searches," Jackson County said.

Firefighters are still working to clear up hazards within the burned area — fire debris, unstable buildings, downed power lines, and venting natural gas lines.

"We continue to urge all citizens to stay away from evacuation zones as crews actively work to address hazardous conditions," Jackson County continued.

Temperatures are expected to reach the mid-70s on Tuesday, and could remain that way for a few days. It will continue to be partly cloudy with lingering smoke and haze. Air quality remains hazardous.

The Almeda Fire is still estimated at 3,200 acres, with 600 homes and 100 businesses damaged or destroyed. Those estimates are likely to change as assessments of the area continue.

Monday afternoon, Sheriff Nathan Sickler said that the Almeda Fire death toll had been adjusted down to three. Nearly two dozen arrests have been made in evacuation zones, some on suspicion of looting.

(Updated 9/15/20 at 10 a.m.)

UPDATE: Containment continues to rise on the Almeda Fire area, with fire officials now estimating 70 percent containment as of Monday morning.

"Fire crews continue to focus their efforts inside the fire line to mitigate hazardous conditions which include fire debris, unstable structures, downed utility lines, as well as venting natural gas lines," the state Fire Marshal's office said in a statement.

Officials said that they are transitioning to a more "stabilized phase" on the fire, with an Urban Search and Rescue Team drawn from Utah and Nevada beginning damage assessment, hazard mitigation, and more detailed searches of the area.

Four sets of human remains have been discovered so far, though none of the bodies have been publicly identified.

"We continue to urge all citizens to stay away from evacuation zones as crews actively work to address hazardous conditions," OSFM said.

The current estimate for damaged and destroyed structures remains at 600 homes and 100 businesses, though these numbers are likely to rise as more thorough assessments begin.

Temperatures are expected to reach the mid-70s on Monday, remaining at that level for the next several days. AIr quality remains hazardous in the area as smoke and haze linger. Persons with respiratory illnesses should remain indoors to avoid inhaling smoke.

(Updated 9/14/20 at 11 a.m.)

UPDATE: The Jackson County Sheriff's Office announced today they have confirmed four sets of human remains in the wake of the Almeda Fire. Earlier in the day at a press conference, the sheriff's office reported there were five deaths as a result of the fire but later revised that number in an evening press release.

Also, the Jackson County Sheriff's office reports there is still at least one person not accounted for in relation to fire evacuations. Saturday morning, the number was up to 50 missing persons.

Detectives are continuing to search for missing persons and other victims of the fire. They say that updates likely won't be made on their efforts until Monday.

Evacuation levels have been lowered for much of the county north, west and east of Phoenix. Updated evacuation information can be found here.

Almeda Fire Evacuation Map, 9/12/2020

(Updated 9/12/2020 at 9:25 p.m.)

UPDATE: Evacuation levels around the Almeda Fire are being reduced to Level 2 in areas as firefighters continue to work on containing the smoldering fire.

The latest evacuation map shows most areas on the northeast side of I-5 reduced to Level 2, with the exception of areas immediately around the Valley View exit. Level 3 evacuations remain on either side of Highway 99 from S Stage Road south to Talent. More information about these evacuation changes will be added as soon as possible.

At least 50 people remain unaccounted for after the Almeda Fire, according to Friday's estimate.

Investigators are still actively investigating the fire's origin near Ashland. Sheriff Nathan Sickler said that an autopsy has been conducted on the first victim, a man found about one mile north from where the fire started.

Sickler confirmed that a man is in custody, accused of starting another fire near Phoenix around 5 p.m. on Tuesday night, as the Almeda Fire burned north from Ashland.

A citizen saw the man starting a fire near the neighborhood around Dano Way and Quail Lane. A deputy quickly took the man into custody. He was originally lodged on a probation violation, but authorities have since added two counts of arson, and many additional charges.

At this point, the arson investigation in Phoenix is not considered to be related to the fire in Ashland.

(Updated 9/11/20 at 2 p.m.)

UPDATE: Just before 12 p.m. on Friday, fire officials said that containment of the Almeda Fire is now at 50 percent.

There are still spot fires burning throughout the Level 3 evacuation areas between Medford and Ashland. Acreage is still estimated at 3,200.

(Updated 9/11/20 at 12 p.m.)

UPDATE: Fire officials released an update on the Almeda Fire on Friday morning, reflecting the progress made on the area since it raced through Talent and Phoenix on Tuesday.

Though activity on the fire had largely stopped by Tuesday, firefighters have been loathe to call the devastating fire "contained" — it has continued to smolder in the rubble and scorched vegetation into the southern limits of Medford. Friday morning, however, officials said that it is now 20 percent contained with no growth, still estimated at roughly 3,200 acres burned.

"Fire crews continue to focus their efforts inside the fire line to mitigate hazardous conditions which include fire debris, unstable structures, downed utility lines, as well as natural gas venting," the Oregon State Fire Marshal's Office said.

The statistics of this fire are staggering. An estimated 600 homes were damaged or destroyed, along with 100 businesses and other commercial properties. More than 16,000 homes are still considered threatened while the fire remains mostly uncontained. Upwards of 42,000 people are considered affected by the fire, and there have been two confirmed deaths and two firefighter injuries.

Officials continue to urge the public to stay out of the evacuation zones as fire crews and law enforcement work in the area. The I-5 Talent Exit 21 remains closed. I-5 Phoenix Exit 24 is closed to the west, but open to the east.

"We’d like to recognize the day we will never forget, September 11, 2001," officials said. 19 years ago our lives changed forever when our first responders made the ultimate sacrifice. First responders have and will continue to show up every day to protect and preserve lives and property."

(Updated 9/11/20 at 10:40 a.m.)

UPDATE: Jackson County has further reduced evacuation levels in areas of Medford, taking some areas from Level 2 "Be Set" to Level 1 "Be Ready."

The area is located between the south boundary of Stewart Avenue, Garfield, and Barnett Rd. The east boundary is North Phoenix Rd and Foothills Rd. The north boundary is McAndrews Road. The west boundary begins on Ross Lane at the intersection with McAndrews to West Main then along that street to Oak Grove south to Stewart.

(Updated 9/9/20 at 12:50 p.m.)

UPDATE: Jackson County officials have downgraded most of south Medford from a Level  3 "GO" evacuation order to Level 2. This area is bounded by North Phoenix Road on the east; on the north side the boundary of Barnett Road and Garfield Street and Stewart Avenue; on the West, the boundary is Hull Road from Stewart Avenue to South Stage Road; and on the south, the boundary is on South Stage Road.

More updates on evacuation levels for this fire and others can be found here.

NewsWatch 12 is beginning to get a closer look at the devastation wrought in areas of Phoenix and Talent, though a detailed accounting of the damage is still far from clear. Many businesses and homes have been lost. It may be some time before authorities can determine if any lives were lost in the fire.

(Updated 9/9/20 at 11:50 a.m.)

UPDATE: Evacuation levels have not yet changed on the Almeda Drive Fire area as of 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Fires continue to burn in Talent and Phoenix, north into south Medford.

Jackson County is urging evacuated residents to stay away from the closure area and "respect the evacuation zone." Evacuees are asked to continue sheltering in place and otherwise avoid the area.

“Crews are actively working in the Talent/Phoenix area. Attempts to enter are hindering emergency efforts and blocking roadways, including I-5. There are downed utility lines and poles and other fire debris. Please stay away until such time it’s clear,” said Captain Tim Snaith with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.

(Updated 9/9/20 9:37 a.m.)

UPDATE: Governor Brown has now declared the Almeda Drive Fire a conflagration. Governor Brown says "this situation is very dangerous". The Governor's declaration authorizes the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal to mobilize resources to assist local resources in battling the fire. 

The State Fire Marshal has also mobilized the Blue Incident Command team to the fire. They are on their way to southern Oregon right now. 

All lanes on Interstate 5 are now back open through the Rogue Valley. Exit 24 Phoenix and Exit 21 Talent are still closed. ODOT encourages drivers to use caution when driving in that area. 

Several evacuation orders for the Rogue Valley have been downgraded to Level 1. Evacuation levels are broken down by region below. 

NORTH MEDFORD: North Medford is now a Level 1, which means be ready to evacuate. This area includes McAndrews Road to the south; Oregon 99 to the west; Beall Lane to the north; Interstate 5 to the east. 

CENTRAL POINT: Central Point is now a Level 1, which means be ready to evacuate. This area includes Beall Lane to the South; Freeman Road to the West to Exit 33; and Petro Truck Stop to the East as well as all of east Central Point, Pine Street to Table Rock Road. 

SOUTH MEDFORD: LEVEL 3: If you are south of Glenwood Ave. on Hwy 99 and south of Campbell Road in the North Phoenix area you are at Level 3. This area is from Hwy 99 to the area of North Phoenix. LEVEL 2: All areas south of Barnett Road to Campbell Rd and Glenwood.

LEVEL 1: All of Jackson County is considered at Level 1.

(Updated 9/9/20 at 12:00 a.m.)

UPDATE: Evacuation orders from the Almeda Drive Fire have been expanded into south Medford, according to the latest from Jackson County Emergency Management.

Level 3 "GO" evacuations are in place for the area bordered by N Phoenix Road to the east, and Barnett, Garfield, Stewart to the north. This extends west to Columbus and Dark Hollow Road. All areas to the south — including the entirety of Phoenix — are already under Level 3.

"Everyone within this boundary is now at a Level 3 and should leave immediately by using routes going to the north and east to avoid current fire activity," Jackson County said.

Medford Police said that the fire is moving in a northwest direction from Phoenix and into south Medford, but flames are also moving up the Bear Creek Greenway toward the middle of Medford. Charles Point Estates on Lowry Lane are also being evacuated.

The Almeda Drive Fire is still completely uncontained. It was last estimated at 1,500 acres.

(Updated 9/8/20 at 7 p.m.)

UPDATE: The Jackson County Sheriff's Office is urging people to stay home unless under an evacuation order. People are asked to avoid South County, including Ashland, Talent, and Phoenix.

"There are multiple fire operations and many first responder vehicles," the agency said. "Public traffic is creating dangerous impacts. Please stay home and avoid all active fire scenes. Thank you."

According to Medford Police, residents south of Barnett Road are on Level 2 "Be Set" evacuation warning.

As of 4 p.m., multiple agencies were working to evacuate the area around Fern Valley Road, Northridge Terrace, and Phoenix Hills Drive. Multiple structures have caught fire in this area, MPD said. Evacuees are being taken to the Jackson County Expo.

The official evacuation levels are as follows:

LEVEL 3: If you are south of Glenwood Ave. on Hwy 99 and south of Campbell Road in the Norht Phoenix area you are at Level 3. This area is from Hwy 99 to the area of North Phoenix.
LEVEL 2: All areas south of Barnett Road to Campbell Rd and Glenwood.
LEVEL 1: All of Jackson County is considered at Level 1.

The Jackson County Expo is still considered the staging point for evacuees at this time. There is a Red Cross shelter at this location. There is also a temporary emergency shelter at Ashland Middle School.

I-5 northbound remains closed between Exit 1 (near the California border) and Exit 24 in Phoenix. I-5 southbound is closed at Exit 35 north of Central Point to Exit 14 in south Ashland, according to the latest from ODOT. Highway 99 is closed between Phoenix and Talent. There is currently no estimated time for reopening.

Both the Ashland School District and Phoenix-Talent School District closing school for Wednesday, September 9.

(Updated 9/8/20 at 4:30 p.m.)

UPDATE: The Oregon Department of Forestry estimates that the Almeda Drive Fire spread between Ashland and Talent has burned upwards of 1,000 acres, destroying multiple structures.

Aircraft are staying on the fire, but ODF says that resources are currently spread between multiple fires in Jackson County.

According to Jackson County, areas of Ashland from West Nevada Road to Colver Road and Suncrest in Talent (on the north side of Highway 99) is under a mandatory evacuation.

R&R Pet Resort near Talent says that they are evacuating animals from their facility, and need people to come pick up their boarded animals.

According to Medford Police, Highway 99 southbound is closed due to fire at S Stage Road. Prescott Park has also been closed as a precautionary measure.

The agency said that the fire was growing northbound towards Payne Road just south of Phoenix, burning on both sides of I-5.

ODOT says that the northbound I-5 closure has now been extended to the California border, with traffic being turned back into California.

(Updated 9/8/20 at 2:45 p.m.)

UPDATE: Evacuations have been expanded to Talent as a fire that started near Ashland continues to spread north.

The Jackson County Sheriff's Office says that Talent Avenue, Mountain View Estates, and Suncrest Road are being evacuated. Homes from Michelle Street west to lower Cambridge Street in Ashland were evacuated previously.

I-5 remains closed from south Ashland (Exit 14) for northbound traffic and north Central Point (Exit 35) for southbound traffic, according to the latest from ODOT.

"Southbound I-5 drivers in the Rogue Valley are urged to exit I-5 and seek local services in the Medford/Central Point area until fire conditons improve and the interstate reopens. We have no estimated time for reopening," the agency said.

The Jackson County Expo grounds are open as a shelter.

Both ODOT and Oregon State Police are looking to hear from the drivers of abandoned semi trucks and vehicles left on I-5 so they do not have to call for tow trucks when the freeway is ready to reopen.

ODOT Dispatch: 541-858-3103
OSP Dispatch: 541-664-4600

(Updated 9/8/20 at 2 p.m.)

UPDATE: The City of Ashland has now ordered evacuations for "all homes near fire from Michelle Street west to lower Cambridge Street" due to a fire near Bear Creek.

Emergency alert texts from the city said that there is a grass fire near Almeda Drive in Quiet Village, and residents there should consider evacuating.

These areas border the Ashland Wastewater Treatment Plant and Ashland Dog Park.

ODOT says it is shutting down I-5 between exits 14 (south Ashland) and 24 (Phoenix) due to the fire. Drivers are asked to avoid the area and expect delays. Highway 99 southbound is also closed due to fire at milepost 17, two miles south of Talent.

"There is currently a very large emergency fire situation in the area roughly between I-5 and Highway 99 between South Valley View Rd. and the Quiet Village area of Ashland, including Eagle Mill Road," the Jackson County Sheriff's Office said. "Please stay out of the area as traffic is highly congested and fire crews are working the area."

An emergency shelter is being set up at Ashland High school via Morse Street and at Ashland Middle School via the front parking lot. Those who need a place to go will be directed from there.

(Updated 9/8/20 at 1:00 p.m.)

INITIAL REPORT: The City of Ashland has issued a low-level "Be Ready" evacuation notice throughout the area as winds continue to down trees and power lines, stoking concerns for fire in the city.

"Everyone, fires are popping up across Oregon already due to this wind event," Ashland Fire & Rescue said. "We need all of you to please take precautions and be Ready (level one) for evacuation. Do not use gas powered machinery or do anything that could cause a spark."

Level 1 is the lowest of Oregon's three evacuation levels, and fire officials often say that Oregonians should always consider themselves at that level during fire season due to the rapidity with which fires can start and spread.

Ashland Fire & Rescue said that it has been getting a number of smoke calls over the last 24 hours, but none of those proved to be from nearby fires. Instead, high winds have driven smoke from the Grizzly Creek Fire near Howard Prairie and the 242 Fire near Chiloquin into the valley.

"Also, the winds are bringing down lots of leaves and needles on and around homes, making homes more flammable," fire officials continued. "Do what you can today to empty gutters (only if you can safely reach them!) and rake around your yard. It's been proven in many fires and home losses that the little things make a big difference!"

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