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PHOENIX, Ore. — Monday, March 8 marks six months since the Almeda, South Obenchain, and Slater fires swept through Jackson, Josephine, and Siskiyou counties — scorching thousands of acres and leaving thousands of people without their homes or businesses.
In the areas of Talent and Phoenix that were leveled by the Almeda Fire, seven mobile home parks are beginning to have ash and debris removal done. The process for cleaning up home sites is at last beginning to pick up, with more than 600 homes cleared and more than 200 almost ready for reconstruction.
Be sure to tune into our special tonight at 6:30 p.m. on @KDRV, as we mark 6 months since the fires that ravaged parts of our region on September 8th. I’ll talk about how the weather that day was set up perfectly for the Almeda Fire to spread so fast through Phoenix & Talent. pic.twitter.com/0FBXciFc2R— Matt Hoffman (@matthoffmanwx) March 9, 2021
The progress is good news, but many people who lost their homes are still struggling to find stable housing in the meantime. Angela Oliver and her fiance have been struggling to stay afloat ever since they lost everything in the fire. With Jackson County's current housing market, the couple says they really only have two choices — continue to stay at the RV park, or leave the Rogue Valley.
"We might end up having to leave the area," said Angela. "And I don't want to do that because my family, they're born and raised here."
Clarinda Wyant says that the process of rebuilding her home has been delayed. Contractors, surveyors, and permits for building are taking longer than expected to be reached or completed, because resources are being diverted to other areas of the rebuilding effort. Wyant worries that her home will not be completed before her insurance coverage runs out within the next six months.
"I very much doubt that my house is going to be built before then," Wyant said. "So that means I'm going to have to start paying $3,000 a month, which is going to cut into the building and replacing all of our furniture and everything that we lost."
Wyant hopes that state legislators will extend the insurance coverage for people who were affected by the September wildfires longer than the allotted one-year timeframe — which would not only help her out, but thousands of Oregonians in similar situations.
Even though some people were able to save their home's from the September 8 wildfires, they were not left unscathed by the flames. Janice Schultz and her husband are among the lucky people to have their home survive the devastating South Obenchain fire that ignited exactly six months ago.
"We've spent 45 years here, you know, building things," Schultz said. "Everything we lost, my husband built. So it was really quite personal."
The couple lost a guest house, a small side house, and a workshop with all of the tools and equipment inside. Two chicken coops and four sheds were destroyed by the fire, but Schultz said that the losses could have much much worse if it weren't for her husband and the firebreak that protected their home.
During the spring of 2020, Schultz and her husband created a "defensible space" surrounding their home, making sure that all flammable material near their house was removed.
"There is never going to be a hundred percent chance that your house is going to make it, because it's a natural disaster," said Natalie Weber, public information officer for the Oregon Department of Forestry. "We can't plan for everything, but I can tell you that when you do have defensible space, your house is much more likely to survive a wildfire."
Sharon and Mike Bateman weren't so lucky. Though they did create a defensible space around their home before the South Obenchain Fire hit, it wasn't enough.
Six months later, both Schultz and the Batemans are beginning to rebuild the parts of their property that were lost. They say that if it wasn't for the support of their community, they don't know if they would be at this point in the process of recovery.
"So much of our community has just come together with us and backed us up and people have just been so good to us in helping us rebuild. When I came home, I mean, I couldn't have got along without the neighbors, letting us know what was going on. You know, outside of our mind."