Friday, March 25, 2022

Almeda by John


Rain and leaves of autumn fall

  softly upon

The burned out ashes of this town,

Children and their mothers/fathers    

  have all gone

To live in shelters, motels -- or

  further down.

Oh Devastation! What have

  you brought

To this good people, this village?

In an hour it blew through and wrought

Like an army come to burn and

  pillage.

Winds of brutal fortune blew

  that day,

Flames and fire ravaged those with   

  greatest need.

There is no justice, nothing

  can repay

The pain in all the hearts that bleed.

Those who choose to fly too

  near the sun

Are at fault for what becomes them.

But if your choice is to die or run,

We must only pity those who

  run then.

Thousands now await a better day,

If they have chosen yet to stay

Amid the ashes of this

  community.

 

 note: this poem appears on page ten in the December 2020 issue of the Talent Historical Society Newsletter, The Historicale

                  

 

Memories Lost and Found

 

by Belinda 

          My Talent roots run long and deep. My Grandparents homesteaded in the mountains west of Talent in 1918, and then moved down into Talent proper when their children needed to go to school. But my grandmother had always wanted a farm, so in 1937 they purchased 41 acres just south of Talent with the northwest corner lying across from Rapp Lane, and that is where their house stood. Recently, it was occupied by South Valley Pool & Spa. The property ran south from there along South Pacific Highway with the eastern boundary being Bear Creek.

 When my father returned from WWII, my grandmother gave him and his new wife several acres at the south end of the property.  He then proceeded to build a house for his family and that is where I grew up. The house at 717 S. Pacific Hwy. was most recently the home of Simple Machine Winery. The land between my grandmother’s house and my old house was divided and sold through the years with several small businesses locating there. The bottom land in the big field adjacent to the creek was used for wheat, alfalfa and later became Mt. View Estates. But now, everything is gone. It all burned down in the Almeda fire of September 8, 2020. All those memories from my childhood are just piles of ash.

Photos clearly show that when my father was building our house in 1946, there were no buildings to the west at all. The road out in front was just two lanes and was always referred to by locals as the New Highway. It was the new location of Highway 99, the Pacific Highway, compared to the Old Highway (now Talent Avenue). Later when I was growing up, a few houses were built along the highway, but the land lying between the roads was a cow pasture with a unfriendly bull presiding. If I wanted to visit friends on the Old Hwy., I needed to go to Creel Rd. or usually north to Rapp Road and around.  At that time, Arnos Rd. didn’t exist. It was a rural area and wasn’t included in the Talent city limits until years later. What a wonderful place to grow up. With the creek running down at the bottom of the hill, I spent many a day playing and exploring all the nooks and crannies amongst the oak trees.

Currently, my husband and I live in the foothills between Talent and Phoenix just up from Colver Rd. and I’m proud to say I still have a Talent mailing address. When the fire started on the morning of Sept. 8th, we watched in horror as the clouds of billowing smoke got closer and closer. Like so many others, our power was cut off early on, and trying to figure out where the monster was headed became our primary purpose. It headed north and for the most part stayed down in the valley devouring most everything in its path.  Our two sons and their families were more directly in its path and evacuated early that afternoon. We stayed on hoping that we were safe. But as darkness fell and retardant planes and helicopters could no longer fly, the fire began to spread west, encroaching closer to us. There came a point when it was no longer safe for us to stay, and we headed down the driveway.  I took one last look at our home for the past 30 years, assuming it would be lost. The night sky glowed red and we could see the flames just over the hill, but we were safe and our family was safe, and that was all that really mattered. Thanks to the amazing efforts of the firefighters, they managed to secure a fire line on Colver Road. and our neighborhood was saved. Our house was still there when we returned.

Over the years, that southern section of Talent along Hwy. 99 has become much more commercial, and the land between the Highway and Talent Avenue filled in with apartment buildings and a large, manufactured home park reached by Arnos Road. It was a busy area with businesses lining the road. More than a week passed after the fire before that section of road was open again. Until then, downed power poles and debris made it too dangerous for traffic. But eventually there came a point when once again you could travel south on 99 from Phoenix to Talent to Ashland, and I knew I needed to go and see what the fire had done with my own eyes. I had seen the photos. I should have been prepared. We set out to view the destruction. No words can really do it justice. My hand was gripping the door handle tightly and my stomach was tied in a knot. So much was gone. Just gone. We had to keep up with the traffic as my head turned from side to side, saying over and over that this was gone, and that was gone It was strangely disorienting. All those familiar places were missing. Where was I exactly?  Rapp Road, was just ahead.

My Grandmother’s house was just a pile of rubble, and there was little left of the house I grew up in. Only the chimney remained. Some of the pretty red tiles on the face of the chimney survived, while others were scorched and brown. My Mother had loved those tiles as they reminded her of fireplaces in her native England.  How many times had I stood in front of it on a cold winter’s day?  As I surveyed the carnage around me, it suddenly occurred to me that I could once again see across those former green fields to the road to the west. You could see from the New Highway to the Old Hwy again. Just burnt remnants of buildings and homes were all that remained in between. The burned carcasses of trees stood out directly across from my old house, but along Arnos Rd. not much was left. In a strange way, it had gone back to how it had been so many years ago. We are, after all, just borrowers of this land. Building on it and thinking that what we humans have constructed is somehow permanent is, in reality, a myth. A fire like this proves that our material dwellings are but temporary. But what no fire can do is take away the memories. Over the past few weeks, I have found myself remembering that little house on the highway more and more. It might be gone, but I can still recall how it felt to grow up there.

My family was one of the lucky ones. Our houses survived and my deepest sympathies go out to those that weren’t so lucky. Many friends lost everything. I hope that even though your house might be gone that you will still have memories to somehow get you through. The response from those who call Talent home has been tremendous, and I hope that everyone who has any kind of Talent roots will help one another and rebuild our special town back again; treasuring our old memories while finding ways to make new memories in the future.

note: this article appears on pages six and seven in the December 2020 issue of the Talent Historical Society Newsletter, The Historicale.

Kailyn’s Fire Story

September 8, 2020

When I was done eating, I went to play but I heard a sound outside.

When I went outside, I saw gray clouds! I realized the clouds weren’t clouds, it was SMOKE!

I was so scared.

I told my grandma and she freaked out and told me to start packing.

So, I started packing everything, so fast!

My sister came home from my cousin’s house and started eating.

I was packing up everyone’s stuff. My sister called 911 and asked for help because my grandma doesn’t drive. Our mom was at work and my sister is only eleven. My brother was with us too, he was three at the time. The police told us to stay calm and stay there until they could arrive. The police came pretty soon! I rode in a police car alone with the policeman and my grandma, my sister and my little brother rode in a police van.

My mom picked us up from the Collier Theater in Talent.

We went to my uncle’s house. The next morning a photographer told us that we could look at our house, but it was damaged/destroyed. It was really sad. I found a plastic thing in the dirt where our house used to be.

I will never forget that day!

                             

note: Kailyn is a student at Talent Elementary School

 

A Renewed Appreciation for Good Neighbors

Our Almeda Fire Experience

by Mary and Ted

My awareness of September 8th, 2020 started about 3:30am when howling winds disturbed my sleep.  Like the mistral – it wasn’t restful. Around 7:30, walking to Talent Avenue for the newspaper, I passed our seasonal pond where, weeks earlier, neighbors had surreptitiously placed an enormous, heavy rubber duck: the wind had blown it onto dry land.  After retrieving the paper and walking back, the duck was now even 15 feet higher, on the level of the road.  With the winds still howling, I dragged the duck back to the front porch where it couldn’t get blown any further.  I also thought that our daily walk wasn’t going to happen.

At 11am, I was in a Zoom meeting.  Around 11:30, our host suddenly disappeared; since she’d been having technical glitches, I paid little attention.  (Later, I learned she had been told to leave immediately; her home did not survive the fire).  Around 11:45, my phone rang and while I don’t take calls during a meeting, I saw it was from a neighbor’s ranch hand –a woman who never calls without a reason.

She said there was a fire in Ashland – probably on Ashland Mine Road, and it was heading straight for the ranch.  If true, it was on the west side of US99 and would lead directly to our properties south of Talent, above the railroad tracks.  This would be the ONLY notice we ever received of the fire.

I alerted my husband and went outside to look, my heart sinking as I saw enormous white and black smoke clouds billowing to the south and being buffeted east and west as it headed our way.  Our first thought was to put sprinklers around the east perimeter and on the roof – this meant taking yard sprinklers, hooking them to hoses and hoisting them on the roof.

Around 12:30, we decided to round up the cats, get a go-bag together and put it all in the car.  The power was already off.  Thoughts of saving some of our lives’ treasures were simply passing notions – there was no time and we mainly wanted to save ourselves, the pets, and our computers, where the bulk of our needed information was stored.  And the passports – don’t ask me why.  We continued to watch.

My thoughts turned to my deceased parents, who had personally dug our well, personally built the house (I’m sure with whatever was lying about as mill ends), and very much wanted us to be here.  At the same time, I know they would be saying, “Leave!”. 

Around 1:30, we saw a police car traveling north on Talent Avenue, telling people on the east side to evacuate.  While we were not advised to evacuate, we were keenly aware that the distance was not that great, and that fire typically moves uphill, particularly with the winds that day.  We prepared to leave.  In what was surely the most bizarre decision, my husband insisted that we pack his tuxedo, dress shoes and shirt and my evening gown, jewelry and high heels: he had earlier arranged for us to have our wedding anniversary photographs taken on Thursday, September 10th, in the Ashland church where we were married, and he wasn’t about to postpone that date.

As we headed north along Talent Avenue, the evacuation was in full force; the road was a parking lot.  It was absolute gridlock. We texted with a neighbor, who had also made the crushing decision to evacuate, leaving her gates open so her stable of rescue horses and other animals could get out.  As we approached Creel Road, traffic was at a standstill; cars, trucks, and trailers were pouring out of side roads attempting to get into the parking lot that Talent Avenue had become.  We didn’t move forward for at least 20 minutes, during which time we saw the black clouds advancing northward; we became convinced that evacuation would lead us into the fire, or worse, we would be immolated in place. 

We u-turned, along with our neighbor, and headed south toward home, where the skies were blue again.  For a while, it appeared that we were out of the woods.  Then the explosions started.  And smoke started up from Highway 99 just below us.  The ranch hand texted us again – she was far up the mountains between Ashland and Talent and was certain Jackson Wellsprings was burning; if so, that meant the west side of 99 was on fire and heading directly for us. 

We soon realized that the fire had NOT gone to Jackson Wellsprings but had jumped to the west side of 99 near New Sammy’s Cowboy Bistro, almost directly below us.  A helicopter was repeatedly dipping into the TID canal below our neighbors, flying out and dropping the water.  An aerial bomber flew unbelievably low, releasing the red flame retardant.   Thinking the fire would surely head uphill toward us, we decided to head for Ashland. This was around 5:30pm.

As we entered 99 South, we saw smoke directly below our house and just kept going.  The highway was clear to the south, and it seemed authorities had closed 99 to northbound traffic.  Sure enough, we saw our neighbor, Yassem Altunel, walking north so we pulled over to ask if we could help – he was walking to his house to see if he could save anything.  We took him home. 

Heading again to Ashland, we started looking for a hotel.  Gas stations had long lines.  Ashland Springs Hotel was full. As we approached Ashland Avenue, freight trucks lined the roads. Traffic was nearly at a standstill.  All the motels had “no vacancy” signs.  My husband got on his phone to search for a vacancy and miraculously found one at Bard’s Inn.  Ironically, it’s the most northerly Ashland hotel, closest to our home.  We learned later that authorities had closed Interstate 5, forcing traffic onto local streets and roads and into whatever accommodations they could find. As a result, local people trying to escape and find shelter were at a great disadvantage; we were just lucky. 

As we got set up, bought food and other supplies, we continued to get texts well into the night from friends giving us updates and inviting us to their homes in Medford – but we had every reason to believe the fire would go there next so opted to stay in Ashland.  They were texting us with pictures of flareups all along Bear Creek well into Medford.  Then the Central Point area flared up.  Seeing this happen at night and knowing fire crews desperately needed assistance made the disaster all the worse.

Our rancher neighbor texted that our house was fine, as was our entire neighborhood, but the wind kept howling and changing direction.  We have friends in Phoenix, where the fire was continuing its destruction.  They told us they were at the high school and watching Cheryl Avenue burn – a block from their home; we urged them to leave. 

Amazingly, we did get some sleep that night. 

At about 7:30am Wednesday morning, another neighbor, Jeff LaLande, called to tell us our house was fine and the sprinklers still going; we headed home.  We knew Highway 99 was closed and that we’d have to take I5 and backroads, probably from the north Medford exit, but another neighbor told us Garfield was open, so it would be a shorter trip.  This is how navigation in and out became a true wiki net between friends and neighbors who were either in need of directions or quick to relate their latest findings.  Official information was hard to come by.

Coming into Talent from the northwest on Colver Road, we were startled to be going right through Talent on the fire line.  Small flames were still burning.  It seemed like a complete miracle that nothing on the west side of Talent Avenue had burned.  That miracle was dampened by the utter destruction from downtown to Arnos Road on the east.  At that point, we couldn’t even see Highway 99; that remained the case except for the online video shot by someone early Wednesday morning.

For the next week or so, the backroads were the only way to get home.  We could easily go south to Ashland on 99, but couldn’t go back.  Sure enough, we were blessed that our house and outbuildings were fine.  And we had a generator, which of course hadn’t been fired up in years.  We got the last battery in the Valley, and with lots of help from friends, got it running. 

Neighbors and friends were wonderful.  We did gasoline runs for each other, traded flashlights, lanterns, and batteries and generally recreated a sense of community.  More distant neighbors were walking bottles of water to those in need and generally checking on everyone. 

The heavy smoke from the California fires were the most depressing thing about the days after the fire.  Our solar lanterns couldn’t get much of a charge, so were only good for a few hours each evening.  We wound up wearing N95 masks with 3-layer cloth masks on top of those.  We watched air particulates climb into the high 600s.

The phone calls and texts were a deluge:  people from all over the country trying to get in touch and see if we were OK.  The national media didn’t help – they showed the same video clip over and over and repeatedly said that both Talent and Phoenix were utterly destroyed; worse, they made it sound as if the fire was ongoing.  I had explained to one friend that while it was awful, the bulk of Talent was intact; she said, “no, it’s not!  I saw it on TV!”  One day, a Talent police car drove up (and we’re not even in the city) to check on us – a friend in the Midwest had emailed them to check on us – and the police took time out of their very busy work to do just that.  It was pretty embarrassing.

We continued to overnight in Ashland until Friday, and then, still without power, we came home for good.  The generator kept the refrigerator running and we had battery power for light.  If we saw a Pacific Power truck, we’d try to approach, but they almost always got away before we could reach them.  Finally getting to speaking range, we asked how long they thought it would be – and they of course, had no clue and were working 24/7 to restore power; the number of power poles destroyed was massive. 

On Sunday, we went to friends in Medford for showers and an early supper, wanting to get home before dark.  As we came again by Colver Road into Talent, we saw a few house lights.  Then we saw streetlights!  And stores with lights!  It was so cheering.  Like Christmas in September.  We never for a moment thought the power restoration would persist, but we kept seeing lights as we got further south.  Then, the most miraculous was that as we got over the railroad tracks to our house, even we and our neighbors had lights! 

After that, it was cleanup, waiting for the air to clear, back to the pandemic and figuring out how we could help those who’d lost everything, while having a renewed appreciation for good neighbors.

 note: This article appeared on pages six, seven and ten in the June 2021 issue of the Talent Historical Society Newsletter, The Historicale.

      On September 8, 2020, a fire was started at the North end of Ashland, Oregon, on a street named Almeda.  Sixty-mile-an-hour winds blow...