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Jackson County opens new wildfire resource center as damage assessments wrap up

The old Central Medford High School Building on Oakdale will be a recovery resource center beginning on Thursday, officials said.

Posted: Sep 23, 2020 3:35 PM
Updated: Sep 23, 2020 5:42 PM

MEDFORD, Ore. — As Jackson County officials prepare to open a new resource center at the old Central Medford High School building for those displaced by wildfires, they addressed the media with updates on fire recovery efforts — including a newly-completed damage assessment of the areas burned by the Almeda Fire.

The original assessment by a Utah-based Urban Search & Rescue Team completed last week found more than 2,800 structures damaged or destroyed, Sheriff Nathan Sickler said at the time.

In the intervening days, a group of local agencies have been working on a more detailed assessment that will be vital for additional FEMA assistance. As of Wednesday, they had assessed 3,395 properties — finding 2,790 damaged or destroyed. Roughly 2,606 were considered residential structures, along with 181 commercial buildings. Numbers are expected to change slightly as more specific evaluations finish up.

These assessments are necessary for those who lost property to be eligible for FEMA's Individual Assistance Program, Jackson County said.

“It’s been two weeks since the fires began,” said Ted Zuk, Jackson County Development Services Director. “Jackson County has been committed to developing the information needed to begin rebuilding for victims of the fire.”

The County is working on a new website to host interactive maps and a photo of each assessed site, alongside the FEMA damage classification of "unaffected, minor damage, major damage, or destroyed." The site is expected to be live within the week.

"The [damage assessment] data is essential in enabling the FEMA IA Program to provide support to victims who may be uninsured or underinsured," Jackson County said in a statement. "The program may provide assistance in the form of temporary housing, housing repairs, and replacement of essential personal property, or other related expenses."

Sheriff Nathan Sickler also officially identified the two known victims of the Almeda Fire — 55-year-old Donald Schmidt, who was identified to NewsWatch 12 by family members last week, and 92-year-old Violet Lobdale. Both lived at the Bear Lake Estates on Luman Road.

The third victim, found on the Bear Creek Greenway about a mile north of the fire's origin point in Ashland, has yet to be identified.

Sickler said that there are still no "critical missing" as of this week, meaning that no one living in the burn area has been reported missing beyond Schmidt and Lobdale.


Southern Oregon Strong: Wildfire recovery resources


According to John Vial, the acting Emergency Operations Center Director for Jackson County, there are still 110 evacuees living at the Expo shelter, and 90 more staying in vehicles there. Efforts to find transitional housing for those displaced — hotel rooms or FEMA trailers — are underway, but not yet ready, Vial said.

Starting Thursday, the old Central Medford High School building will become a "Multi-Agency Resource Center" for those displaced by the Almeda and Obenchain fires. Representatives from FEMA, local insurance agencies, local government, and the Red Cross will be on-site to help walk people through the fire relief assistance process.

“We are thankful for the partnership and cooperation of agencies around the valley in addition to FEMA for coming together to offer these important resources to those affected by the fires,” said Vial. “We know the process of personal recovery is incredibly overwhelming and we hope the MARC will provide some relief and assistance to folks navigating that process.”

Those looking to apply for assistance are encouraged to bring some form of identification with a home address, their social security number, and an insurance card or the name of the provider. Vial underlined that these documents are helpful, but not required, because FEMA is accustomed to working with people who have lost everything.

There will also be resources available at the Phoenix Civic center, Talent Elementary School, and the River House in Shady Cove.

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