Sunday, July 31, 2022

Intro


    The purpose of this blog is to document the history of the Almeda Fire. To protect contributors, we have intentionally not allowed comments. To submit a story or to comment please email us at towninflames@gmail.com

    El propósito de este blog es documentar el incendio de Almeda. Para proteger a quienes han contribuido, nosotros no hemos permitido comentarios en el blog. Para enviar una historia o comentar, envíenos un correo electrónico a towninflames@gmail.com  

    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 blowing from the South over Southwestern Oregon drove flames along the vegetation on both sides of Interstate 5 and Pacific Highway.  Like numerous other wildfires that have plagued the drought-stricken states in Western United States, the September 8th fire destroyed homes, businesses, animals, and plant life in its path from Ashland to Medford, crippling the heart of Talent and Phoenix, Oregon.  The Talent Historical Society has collected the following personal accounts, photos, artwork, and links to news articles with the goal of preserving and acknowledging the amazing stories of those who survived, the resilience of those who lost everything, and the compassionate response of the community to those affected.  Our purpose is not only to preserve history but to learn how to respond to future disasters and bolster the hope of healing and restoration.

Note: All stories and photos that appear on this blog were contributed with the intention to publish on the blog and in the Talent Historical Society's up-comming book documenting the Almeda Fire.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Rachel’s Fire Story

    On 9/8/20 at 1:30 pm we had a knock on our door in the Anjou apartments in Talent and were told to LEAVE NOW! We knew there was a fire in Ashland but did not know it was coming our way RAPIDLY! We grabbed a few things (for some reason both my sister and I grabbed an extra pair of shoes, but not much else) and left with the clothes on our backs. We were caught in intense traffic, taking quite some time to get to Medford. We went to the library to use the computers so we could let friends and family know what was happening.

     Not realizing the seriousness of what was happening, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at Porters before finding a room for the night. We still didn’t clue in when our waitress had to leave to go rescue her kitty in Phoenix, as she was under an evacuation order. As we were leaving, we realized Porters was closing so staff could go home. Still, we nonchalantly headed to Central Point where we knew there was a Holiday Express. However, they were full and we were told there was nothing available until Roseburg. It began to register with us that things were very serious.

     We had heard people were being told to go to Expo and that was close, so we headed there. Expo was being set up as a shelter. After parking, we wandered around. There was food and water available. We “slept” (not much) in our car that night but found out the next day we could get cots. They had breakfast and lunch for us. We secured a couple cots (blankets provided), but a fire was now threatening the Expo and we were advised to leave. Life had become downright scary now.

     We headed north with a herd. I had heard there was a shelter being set up at the fairgrounds in Grants Pass, so we went there. When we got there, they sent us to Parkway Christian church. They were setting up a shelter in their parking lot with cots. We slept that first night on cots outside with bedding provided, but it was pretty chilly. They moved us inside to a gym the next day because the smoky air was becoming hazardous. These folks were amazing! They provided three meals a day to everybody (including some homeless who wandered in) and bedding, toiletries, showers, and vouchers for clothes at Goodwill.

     We now realized that our home may have burned. The reports about Talent and Phoenix were horrifying. A friend of mine, in Ashland, got in touch and offered us a place to stay, but she couldn’t provide for us until Sunday. Parkway was closing the shelter as they found spots for everyone, so the Pastor and his wife took us to their home for Saturday night and fed us! 

     Meanwhile, our brother (who lives in North Carolina) had managed to find out that Anjou had been saved and we got in contact with management there. We couldn’t go home yet, but HOME EXISTED! We went to my friend’s on Sunday and were able to stay there until we could get back to our place the following Friday. After five days in shelters and 5 days at my friend’s, we drove to Talent to find Anjou standing with devastation all around.

     Every time I pick something up in our apartment, I can’t help thinking how close it came to being burnt. This feels like not only a major lesson in IMPERMANENCE, but also a huge reminder of the kindness of strangers, the caring of family and friends, and how we need to help each other and take care of our planet.

     Whenever we go anywhere now, we witness the devastation others are facing. At least WE have a place to live, but the loss all around us remains stark and heartbreaking.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Student Story: Talent Elementary Student


Gina’s Fire Story

Here is my story on the fires of September 8, 2020.

Hi, I’m Gina. This is a story of a fire, okay let’s start.

So, my mom and dad went to Winco. Me and my sister were going to stay home. I was going to take a shower. Then, I heard pounding at the on my front door! We didn’t open the door because we were afraid it was somebody mean. So, we called our dad. Dad used his phone to check our security camera. Dad saw it was the manager at the door.  By that time, the manager had already left.

My mom got a call from a friend from work. The friend said that there was somebody knocking on your door. So, my dad drove really quickly back from Winco.

My sister told me to sit down and she would tell me if something bad was happening. My sister grabbed my dog and told me, “nothing is happening.” But really, there was a whole bunch of smoke. I stood up and screamed, “Look! LOOK!”

I saw smoke and flames 3 feet from our house!! Dad and mom got home and started packing stuff. They said, “just get in the car.” I only grabbed my pajamas and the clothes I was wearing. We drove to pick up my cousins: Lily and Lixandro.

I was quiet but scared. I went with my uncle to Medford. We were going to sleep there but another fire came to Medford, so we drove to Ashland. It was calmer in Ashland. Then we went to a big house. We slept there. In the morning the sky was gray but the sun was red. We found out everything was burned and we were so scared, but that wasn’t true. Thank God our home didn’t burn down. We saw videos of the fire and saw things exploding. Important engines of my dad’s burned and were destroyed. The gasoline exploded too.

I’ll never forget that day!




 Photo courtesy of Debra Moon

Saturday, July 16, 2022

STUDENT STORY: TALENT ELEMENTARY STUDENT - Brisa's story (english and spanish)

La Historia de Brisa Sobre Su Experiencia con el Fuego En 8 de septiembre del 2020, me desperté, desayuné recuerdo que era el cumpleaños de mi hermana, nos pusimos a ver la tele, mi mama estaba afuera y después salí a ver a mi mama, cuando salí vi mucho humo y mi mama nos dijo: “NOS TENEMOS QUE IR INMEDIATAMENTE!!!” “NOS TENEMOS QUE IR INMEDIATAMENTE!”

 Entramos a casa y empacamos un poco, nos subimos en el carro mis hermanas y mi mama manejaba. Fuimos por mi papa a su trabajo. En el camino vimos fuego, muchos carros, humo. Me sentía muy triste al dejar mi casa. De ahí fuimos a un lugar muy lejos y ahí nos quedamos en la noche y al día siguiente fuimos a ver nuestra casa que ya no estaba ahí. Me sentí muy triste y frustrada porque perdí mis cosas, lo que más extraña es mi cama, mis juguetes y mi trampolín. 

 Brisa’s Story about Her Experience with the Fire On the 8th of September 2020, I woke up and ate breakfast. I remembered that it was my sister’s birthday. We started to watch television. My mom was outside, and I went outside to see her, when I saw a lot of smoke and my mom said, “WE HAVE TO LEAVE IMMEDIATELY!!! WE HAVE TO LEAVE IMMEDIATELY!” We went into the house and packed up a little, then we got in the car with my sisters and my mom was driving. We went to get my dad at his work. On the road we saw fire, many other cars, and smoke. I felt very sad to leave my house. From there we went to a very faraway place and spent the night, and the next day we went back to see our house, which was not there. 

 I felt very sad and frustrated because I lost all my things. What I miss most is my bed, my toys, and my trampoline.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Gayle's Story



Before 09/08/2020


After 09/08/2020

 

I was able to save my car and I-phone. That is it.

My husband died in February. Then Covid fears set in. Then the devastation of a fire that destroyed 62 years of my life from me. It has been overwhelming for this 82-year-old woman to survive, but there is one sustaining aspect. My sweet husband said to me a couple weeks before he died, “You’ll be okay”.

As frightening events have occurred, I’ve recalled his message many times and found strength to face reality. I will be okay.  I can do this!

Gayle

TPAC Flags of Hope Video


 

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Flags of Hope by Aubrey Laughlin

    Many folks are not aware that the Talent Public Arts Committee (TPAC) Flags of Hope display was collected before the Almeda Fire and slated to launch the weekend after fires burned through Talent, Phoenix, and our surrounding communities. With so much upheaval, loss, uncertainty, and changes in 2020, TPAC felt that we wanted to uplift the community collectively through art by remembering what brings us hope. As such, we created a pick-up station for flags and art supplies on my porch, and community members created art and messaging around what brings them hope. We had collected all of the flags by September 4, 2020 (four days before the fire), and they were to go on display on the back wall of the Talent Club the weekend of September 11-13th. The Almeda Fire occurred between the collection date and the display date for the Flags of Hope installation, and with all hands on deck trying to help with immediate fire aftermath needs, it did not go up until September 23, 2020.

    However, it really could not have happened at a more needed time. In fact, the messages of hope that we already needed in a hard year rang even more true during the aftermath of the Almeda Fire. Sixty-two flags adorned the back wall of the Talent Club for weeks declaring a fierce hope that we would make it through this tragedy as well. Powerful imagery and words reminded us what it takes to hold fast in the face of soul-wrenching adversity for many. Phoenixes, trees, handprints, flowers, hearts, sunrises, and symbols stood as heralds in the midst of destruction. We may never understand the timing or events that shape us, yet sometimes these things come together in ways that are beyond our reckoning. Such was the case for Talent’s Flags of Hope. May their words and images continue to bring healing to our valley. 

Aubrey Laughlin

Former TPAC Chair (2018-2022)

Flags of Hope Event Write Up on TPAC FB Page:



 Photo courtesy of Debra Moon


 Photo courtesy of Debra Moon


 Photo courtesy of Debra Moon

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

STUDENT INTERVIEW: TALENT MIDDLE STUDENT

 Middle School Student Interview with Parent

 “Hi! This is Rowen, I’ll be interviewing my mom, Amber, about the Almeda Fire today! When the fire happened, did you have to evacuate?”

“I did”

“What did you pack or bring with you when you evacuated?”

“Very little. Most important was gathering you, my kiddo, and the dog. And I had a bag that I threw my passport in, and some money, and then Levi reminded me that I should bring some clothes, so I grabbed that, a little bit of that, and um, I think I brought my guitar.”

“Ohh”

“So, I was not prepared to evacuate. I brought random things.”

“Where did you go? Where did you evacuate to?”

“We drove to Grants Pass and stayed with my ex-husband.”

“When were you notified about the fire, or did you find out on your own?”

“I was at work in Ashland, and my coworkers told me about it, and they were warning me that I might end up having to evacuate. And so, they sent people home early, and I remember struggling to get home to Talent to get you.”

“How far were you expecting the fire to spread?”

“I had no idea. In fact, it started to feel like there were fires on all sides of us. When we were in Grants Pass there were some down south, some more up north, it was scary.”

“What do you remember most about the fire?”

“The feeling of being horrified that I wasn’t going to be able to get home to get you out.”

“Was anything of yours destroyed by the fire?”

“Everything in the fridge and freezer had to get thrown out because the power went out.  

“Oh nooo”

“The power was down for a week I think, but that was it.”

“What do you think was your overall experience with the whole fire?

“It was horrifying, and it was eye opening to realize how anything can happen at any time.”

“Well…I think that answers all the questions! Thank you, mom!”

“You’re welcome, Rowen”

STUDENT STORY: TALENT ELEMENTARY STUDENT

 Conlan’s Fire Story

Nine months ago today, Talent, Oregon went through a HORRIBLE event.

That morning, I remember waking up and watching TV, after I got dressed.

I jumped on the trampoline. Then I Stopped, and I saw smoke. Then my mom told me to pack up and get out of the house. And, I packed my stuff, then I put my stuff in the car and then we drove to my grandma’s house. When we got there, we unpacked stuff. 

It was hard.

My baby brother and my dogs, they did not want to get in the car but they had to get in the car but then we went outside. Then we saw fire, I was scared.

Monday, July 11, 2022

STUDENT STORY: TALENT ELEMENTARY STUDENT

 Owen’s Fire Story


I was in my house, suddenly, I see smoke out the window.

Suddenly, I see smoke out the window!

Then our neighbor bangs on the door.

“There’s a fire! There’s a fire!”

Our mom goes out and talks with the neighbor and then my sister starts crying. Then we go inside and pack up.

You’re probably wondering where my dad is. My dad is hunting for elk.

After we’re done packing, we leave.

And, my sister has to go to the bathroom. My mom forgot her purse and went all the way back to the house.

Then we go to Mrs. B’s house. We stay there for a while and then we went to a friend’s house. We stayed there for two nights and our friend’s dad is a firefighter.

Then, eventually, my dad comes home.

Then I hear a propane tank blow up. Ten hours later, we start driving back home.

Then we notice our power is back on.

We pack up everything from our friend’s house and start heading back to the house.

The end.

Claire's First Fire Video


 

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Jan’s Fire Rant

    On September 8, 2020 gusts of wind brought sudden and unwelcomed change that burned down my entire neighborhood and a large portion of our town.  I am struggling with a literal firewall to the past. My senses no longer have access to my home though my mind still cherishes every inch of it. There is a death-like bracket around unresolved matters and unfinished tasks. In my displacement from home, I struggle with being busy rather than with building and maintaining my own nest.  My relationship to “things” ranges from hostile to acquiescence as I bow to my needs.

    I want to walk to Ray’s and see people I know. I want to buy a lottery ticket there. I want to breath in the familiar and ride my bike with the fluorescent pink rims on the gently inclined streets of Talent.  I miss the greeting of my garden that signaled admission into my world.  I want to walk under the living willow arch near my front door that took years to braid and twist into shape and to smell the Daphne I planted 6 years ago. I want to see my neighbor’s liquor bottles in the recycling bins where I parked my car. I want my children’s faces captured by the camera all over my walls. I want to enter the delicate bubble of remembrance as I leaf through my photo albums. I want to hear the drums of Africa in the weavings and sculptures I collected from there. 

    I long for sewing projects that have piled up over the years – dresses still pinned to the pattern that I never made, embroidery designs still in the hoop, pants that need to be hemmed. I want my historical research to be at my fingertips when I write a story. I want the guilt of never doing enough with what I already had and at the same time digging deeper into my research and making new files.  I want to paint on an empty canvas. I want to see my teenage granddaughters every day and take them to school even when they are non-communicative and sullen.

    I want the sheets of the past to bed in. How can I possible replace the ratty old nightgown that I wore to bed but somehow it always ended up on the floor by morning? The handmade baskets that filled every corner of my house in Talent made perfect combustion.  Though there is something poetic about journals and love letters going up in flames, their passion (and stupidity) will never be revealed – their memories burned at the stake.


Jan lived on Gangnes Drive in Talent. After the fire she was fortunate enough to find a place to rent in Medford.  

Saturday, July 9, 2022


 Photo courtesy of Debra Moon

Myke's Poem

September 22, 2020 at 2:14 PM · 

🔥🌪

Not until you see it with your own eyes

Not until you walk among the ashes

Not until you stand beside a stranger

weeping at the loss of their once cherished home

..and hug them knowing it might have been you.

Not until you gaze down a mile of charred rubble

..and remember that just 15 days ago, you were in that store!

Not until that moment

do you realize the power of Nature and it’s Force

to take away every aspect of life that was once yours

“ and leave you as you were at birth, just a body”

A stranger that I met today said those words to me as I gave

her a hug to bring some comfort. Not until you walk among

the ashes, and see with your own eyes do you know that it could

be you.



 Photo courtesy of Debra Moon

Friday, July 8, 2022

First Responders to the Almeda Fire: The Talent Police

 From Interview on May 18, 2022

There were only four officers employed by the Talent Police on the day of the fire. Jennifer Snook, our Police Chief, was there along with Officer Michael Bates, Corporal Bernard Rogers, and Officer Lenin Carnighan. Chief Snook and Officer Carnighan still work for Talent Police. Two officers have taken other positions and have been replaced by new officers at this time. Officer Bates has moved to Ashland PD, and Corporal Rogers now works for Medford PD. But on the day of the fire these four made up our police force. 

Chief Snook was on duty and Officer Carnighan was asleep since he had worked the night before. Around 10:30 am Chief Snook was informed that the fire was not stopping, and she called her three officers to come to work. From that moment and for the next 36 hours the four officers worked non-stop. 

They listened to radioed orders from the Sherriff’s Department and began evacuating people from trailer parks that were in the path of the fire. They had to announce with a siren and a P.A. system to inform people of the impending danger and urge them to evacuate. They also went up to people’s doors, knocked, and gave them the warning. They went to apartments and homes too.

It soon became obvious that they were needed for traffic control. So, some officers did that while others were transporting people who had no way to escape. Chief Snook said there were some people just standing along the side of the road with boxes of their belongings not knowing where to go and having no car or means of transportation. The police picked them up and many were taken to the camp at the Expo. 

The police coordinated buses for people needing transportation too. They found themselves collecting animals that were wandering as strays due to the fire. They had one cat that they kept at their station for a few days until other arrangements could be made. They distributed batteries, chargers, and Gatorade. 

They were working in Talent, in Phoenix and in between these towns and the Expo Fire Rescue area. As the fire approached, they were sometimes in the midst of it, Chief Snook said they could hear it, “Fire has its own sound”, and it was eerie. 

Officer Carnighan took a family to the camp at the Expo and then kept getting directed constantly to one emergency after another and could not get back to Talent. He cut through a wire fence to get one man out and he also broke a window in a burning trailer to rescue the family within. The officers sometimes had to coax people out of their homes, who, for some reason, were reluctant to leave. 

The force all met up finally near City Hall at about three am of that first night when it was evident that the fire was not spreading quite as fast. They shared notes and information and tried to eat a little something, and then they went right back to work. The Chief did not go home for 2 days. She did take a bathroom break at long last sometime toward the end of that first 24 hours. The officers kept moving people out of town. They had to make a lot of moral decisions about going back in to rescue animals for people or help them get their medications. They were also on call for break-ins and looters. They arrested looters. They had a mission to protect people’s property.  

As if these were not enough duties, they also found themselves moving abandoned trucks and truck trailers off the freeway. The Chief worked on getting a generator for the police station so that they could have lights and use their information systems there. 

And how did four officers do all this? Well, all police departments, Medford, Phoenix, Talent and Ashland, and the county Sheriff officers were working together and frequently passed the boundaries of their own community to answer calls and respond to more needs and crises. Still, the work of the Talent Police on that day, and the days to follow, were heroic and continuous. 

Chief Snook expressed that the fire raised awareness of how to be prepared for such an emergency. They realized that they needed to have food and other supplies on hand in their station. Officers were sweating and dehydrated during the Almeda crisis. They now know they need to have a generator on hand, and a plan for vehicle fuel. Luckily the south Walmart in Medford set up a fuel station for the police and other responders during the Almeda fire. Agencies and businesses pulled together to meet the needs of the community both during and after the fire. Harry and David offered their Employment Office as a place where the police forces from various towns and the Sherriff’s Department could team up and work together to bring people back in or tell people that their home had been destroyed by the fire. 

The involvement of the Talent Police in the Almeda fire did not end when the fire was finally extinguished. It carried on, doing many duties for the community long after the fire was out. 


 Photo courtesy of J Snook


 Photo courtesy of J Snook

Fire Superheroes


 Photographer Unknown

Thursday, July 7, 2022

STUDENT STORY: TALENT ELEMENTARY STUDENT

 Valeria’s Fire Story

On the morning of September 8, 2020, I woke up and asked my dad if we could go to the park with my dog and my brother. We were at the dog park and I realized I could hear a lot cop cars, fire trucks, and I saw a helicopter that was carrying something really big. My dad said we had to leave because we didn’t know what was happening. As we were driving, there was a lot of wind and it was very dark. There was a lot of smoke and I felt like I was choking. Then I saw my cousins leaving their homes and asked us if we knew what waw happening. They were wearing masks. We saw the cops coming and telling everyone they needed to evacuate in five minutes. We rushed and grabbed everything we could. My dad told us and my cousins we needed to meet outside in five minutes. I grabbed my clothes and a hair tie because I thought that we were going to come back.

Then we left in my dad’s truck. My cousins put their dog in the back our truck with a wet rag since there was a lot of smoke and that is bad for them. As we were leaving my house, I saw flames in the entrance of our house. We were able to leave right on time. We called my mom and asked her if she was okay and asked her if she needed to evacuate. She was confused and didn’t know what was happening. My brother told her we needed to evacuate because of the fire. My mom was scared because she did not know if we were okay. We told her that we were okay but that she needed to go back to the house for important papers. My mom still had not left her job, so my stepdad went back there for the important papers. Then my mom got out of work and met us at Walmart and that is when we left with her.

When we got into my mom’s car, we ran into my mom’s friend and we all went to a church. When we were at the church, I was playing with kids outside and then the cops showed up and started to say, “Evacuate now! Evacuate now!”

Then I ran to tell my mom that I smelled smoke and the cops had just us we needed to leave. When we were in the car, I fell asleep for about an hour. Then I woke up and we were in a store and I felt really tired. Then I saw my mom and asked her where we were and what we were doing. She said we were at a store buying food because we needed to eat. Then I saw my mom had found more friends and they were talking.

My mom gave me something to eat and we went to my stepdad’s friend’s house. That night we did not fall asleep until 4am.

It was a very long and ugly night. I will NEVER forget September 8, 2020! 


 Photo courtey of J Snook

Debra's Fire Story

 The morning of the day of the fire—at 5 am—the big, lovely shade tree in my backyard blew over in the windstorm accompanying the Almeda fire. It landed on the roof of my house. I peered out the sliding glass window in my bedroom, right into the leafy branches of that wonderful shade tree—they were inches from my face—very disconcerting! It had fallen but was stopped from crashing through the sliding glass windows by the big branches resting on the roof.

This event was disturbing and dangerous, but I didn’t even have time to take care of the dilemma. I set about getting a tree guy to come out and cut it down off my roof, but before this could happen, we were informed that a raging fire was coming through town, and that many residents had to evacuate, and some were highly encouraged to. My neighborhood was one of high encouragement, but they didn’t have to ask me twice. I keep my big yard watered really well and figured that was going to have to suffice. I gathered a bunch of things in an hour, jumped into my car and headed out of town the back way toward my daughter’s house in Ruch, just outside of Jacksonville. I could see the huge flames burning down Talent Avenue as I left. It gave me a very spooky feeling, not knowing if I’d ever see my sweet little home again. 

 The frantic throwing of items we wanted to save, or might need to save ourselves, followed by the flight out of town, which in fact proved to be inching out of town in a line of traffic, while seeing across the flat expanse of the fields in the outskirts of town while the flames tore through Talent, was all frightening enough. Then there was a period of time of not knowing what burned and what prevailed that brought another kind of dread. My house did not burn. I knew within about 36 hours by news through the telephone and by watching YouTube drone videos of town, but I could not return or really see it. 

During this time, and for days afterward, an avalanche of communication overwhelmed me. It seemed that everyone I knew from high school, maybe grade school in some instances, up through my entire adult life, both friends and relatives, were extremely concerned and deserved to know if I was alright. I didn’t know my phone even had that many beeps in it! My head ached with repetition of the incidents and conditions, but I felt like everyone should know that I had survived! My house also survived with some roof damage, and a big hole in my yard, but really, it was nothing compared to losing everything to the fire. 

I had to stay at my daughter’s for over a week because power and water were off all over my neighborhood. However, I came back almost every day, once it became safe, to turn off my gas, empty and clean my refrigerator, clean up debris from the storm and the tree falling, get the tree off the roof, etc. My backyard looked like a hurricane hit it (which it kind of did), at least in the area where the tree fell, but I am so grateful to still have my home. I am also grateful for the wonderful neighbors who set up generators and kept an eye on everyone’s house. Two looters were arrested by the Talent Police in our neighborhood. The neighbors all banded together and helped each other out in many ways. 

It was the worst disaster Talent has ever known, but many parts of our town were more or less intact. We celebrate the survival of the 100-year-old tree, planted in front of Talent Elementary, and the schools, Talent Elementary and Talent Middle School, which are all still standing after the fire. Many of Talent’s historic sites survived. A few were lost, not in our memories, but in physical reality. As I write this account, a roofer is walking around on top of my house, trying to give me an estimate for an entire roof replacement. A kind friend sent a card with money in it to replace my tree. 

The disaster has brought so many people together. The town set up a place in front of our little pizza parlor for people to bring goods to give away to those in need. This is still a wonderful community. I know it will build back, give back, and continue to be the charming town I fell in love with. 


 Photo courtesy of Debra Moon

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Our Story of Evacuating the Almeda Fire by Ron


note: this article appears on pages four and five of the March 2021 issue of the Talent Historical Society Newsletter, The Historicale


On September 8th, the life of Talent, and many Talentians, changed forever.

I work for Harry & David and on that day, I was working from home because of the COVID-19 issues affecting our world this year. At about 11:00 a.m. I could see from my home office many vehicles zooming past our living room windows on the front of our home.  This was certainly unusual because no one “zooms” in Mountain View Estates! The speed limit in the park is 15 mph.

I knew there was a fire in Ashland that morning, but even with the high winds I thought there was no way it would make it all the way to Talent. I have never been more wrong.

As I looked out our front windows, I saw strong winds with debris flying through the sky and a police cruiser parked around the corner with its lights flashing. I went out the front door and walked over to the cruiser. More cars rushed past as I crossed the street. It was an Ashland Police car and there was no one in the car. I looked down the street to see an officer walking down one driveway about a half-block away and then up the next driveway. It was obvious he was going door to door to alert people. I started walking quickly toward the house he was at.

As he exited that driveway and started towards the next, I called to him asking if we were being evacuated. He stopped, turned toward me and hollered, “YES, GET OUT……NOW!!”

I asked, “Where should we go?”  He answered, “DRIVE NORTH!” I asked, “To where?” His response, “JUST GET OUT AND DRIVE NORTH NOW!”

I did get out, but only after I spent about 10 minutes gathering as many things as I could think of that were precious or irreplaceable to us. More on that later.

When I did get out, I didn’t go far. I parked in the Talent Truck Stop parking lot across Valley View Road from Mountain View Estates. I felt fairly safe because I was surrounded by the huge concrete parking lot of the Cummins (the old Walmart) parking lot across the street and the similarly huge gravel parking lot of the truck stop. There were many others who chose to stop here as well.

From that vantage point, we could clearly see the overpass where Valley View Road crosses I-5. I was videoing all the activity going on in the area when the fire got to the overpass. It jumped Valley View Road like it wasn’t even there. That’s when I realized how serious the situation was. This wasn’t a wildfire; it was more like an incinerator. Shortly after that we were all instructed to move out of the area to a safer location. 

The “safer location” I chose was on the side of Rapp Road just where it crosses the railroad tracks. This was where I saw Jan Wright and her daughter and spoke with them for a couple of minutes. Jan was on her own evacuation route and would later join me as a fire victim who lost her home and all its contents.

After about 10 minutes there, I realized I could probably get a better view of the valley from Rapp Lane. I drove there and joined several Talentians that were watching the same horror I was. Again, I videoed, for as long as my phone battery lasted. I ended up spending probably an hour or so watching from that vantage point.

Finally, I decided to go down to the museum and charge my phone. Arriving at the museum, I found that the power had gone out. Once I realized it, I was not surprised, I had just not thought about that possibility. I returned to my car and idled for about 15 minutes charging my phone.

Then I walked to the corner of Highway 99 and Valley View Road. I stood with my back to Talent Market & Liquor’s concrete block building. That gave me what I knew was a false sense of security. The scenes I saw there were perhaps the most chaotic of a disastrous day.

There were two Oregon Department of Transportation workers who were “in charge” of the intersection. They had been tasked with maintaining order in chaos and directing traffic. I’m sure it was not something they had signed up for.

There was steady general public traffic coming down Highway 99 from the north. This included everything from motorcycles to semi-trucks. There was traffic coming out of Talent on Valley View. There were police, sheriff and fire vehicles speeding back and forth occasionally stopping and giving ever changing directions to the two ODOT guardians of the intersection. It was hot, it was windy, it was smokey and it was overwhelming.

There were people who wanted to drive south on Highway 99 despite the danger. The guardians stopped them. There were people who wanted to drive Valley View to the Interstate despite the danger. The guardians stopped them. They were yelled at and no doubt cursed, but these two knew their jobs and did them admirably.

At some point, it was finally decided there was no choice but to open up Valley View to the freeway to alleviate some of the crush of traffic. Seeing this, I hoofed it back to the museum to get my car. Driving this route, I could get within a half a block or so of my house and maybe I could see what was happening in my neighborhood.

I drove back to the intersection and was allowed through to connect to the freeway. Upon reaching the Cummins driveway, I pulled off the main road into the driveway. It was too hot and smokey to stay, but I got a quick look and from my parked car took a photo of what I believed was our house fully engulfed in flames. I stopped just long enough to take that photo and then rejoined the flood of vehicles headed for I-5.

It was about 4:30 and I finally decided to follow the officer’s orders and “drive north!” It didn’t take long to reach the south Medford exit, but from that point to my son’s house in west Medford, it took at least an hour to reach my destination.

I’ll share with you now my Facebook post from the next day to continue my story.

09-09-2020 This has been a long and tiring day. After a late-night trip to Talent last night to confirm that our house was indeed gone in the wildfire that swept up the Rogue Valley of southern Oregon, neither Stella nor I slept much.

We were fortunate to have our son Nick and our wonderful daughter-in-law Jana to take us in last night, feed us, and give us a place to collapse.

The very first thing I did this morning was to file our insurance claim for the house and contents. I knew there would be a very long line, forming quickly, today and didn't want to get lost in it.

We started out pretty early this morning and made the first stops in our busy day to buy clothing. Again, dozens of families lost their homes and businesses yesterday and overnight, so we figured we'd best buy some undies while there were still undies to buy!

We filled up the car with gas and then headed for Talent to see what we could see.

I've posted a video on my page showing what we found at Mountain View Estates, our home until yesterday. I have many more photos of our own personal devastation to help document our losses for the insurance company and may post a few of the more poignant ones on my Facebook feed in days to come.

We recognize that we are both in shock about what has happened. I expect it will take a while to sink in.

After our own home inspection, we drove around to see what we could see in Talent. Our sweet little town that we moved to in 1988 certainly took quite a blow over the last 24 hours. We lost several historic buildings (of course Ron would be looking at the historic buildings), many businesses and so, so many homes.

That's not to say there isn't a lot of Talent remaining, there is! Along with some of our most precious historic buildings. The firefighters drew a line along Talent Avenue and didn't lose anything behind that line. The fires were only a block away from one of the oldest church buildings in southern Oregon along with the star of our downtown, an 1899 Schoolhouse that has been everything from a schoolhouse to our City Hall, to our Library and our Community Center for over 120 years. (Can you tell that I kind of like that particular building?)

Again, I will post more photos in the days to come, today has been a little overwhelming.

Stella was already at work on Tuesday morning when this whole thing started, so it was up to me to be the one to bug out and decide what to take with me. Our whole neighborhood literally had minutes to make our decisions.

First in the car? The laptops! I had my personal laptop, one of Talent Historical Society's laptops and my Harry & David work laptop. (I was working from home when I noticed all the cars hurrying out of our park and went to see what was up.) I also grabbed Stella's personal laptop and her laptop from her church (she's the treasurer for her church). What I found out much too late was that she also had a work laptop at home. Oops! Didn't even realize that.

Next off the wall came the irreplaceable family photos which ranged in date from 1881 to 1957. They got stacked carefully in the car, so as not to break the domed glass in some of the frames. I stood in our bedroom looking at the upright jewelry box Stella got as a gift one year. How could I save that? I couldn't, so the drawers came out and the "family jewels" got tossed into the car.

Finally, I looked at my shelves of books I'd purchased over the past 45 years, so that when I retired, I'd have all this collected knowledge to continue my family research into both sides of our family, to pass on to future generations. I couldn't take it all, so I grabbed about a half-dozen of my most cherished and irreplaceable books and finished the pile in the car.

That was it. No clothing, no prescriptions, no CPAP machine, nothing else. All those things can be easily replaced.

Now since then, in perfect 20-20 hindsight, it might have been nice to grab our insurance files or our marriage license or our wedding album of some of the treasured genealogical memorabilia that I've thought of now but wasn't in plain view as the stuff I did grab.

I can't let those things bother me moving forward. I can certainly have my regrets, but what is done is done and here we go! Off into the future!

I spent most of the afternoon in and around Talent watching things unfold in front of me. I was stunned. By the time I did leave, I was able to drive close enough to our house to see, from about a block away, through the unbelievably thick smoke, what I was sure was our house fully engulfed.

By the time I made my way to Nick's house in Medford, Stella was already there waiting for me. I'd called ahead to tell her what I saw so she knew what was up when I walked through the door.

I'd been thinking about what the bright side of this could be so I could try to cheer her up. The kitchen! She hated the kitchen in our house and was hoping someday to be able to redo it into the kitchen that my cooking genius wife deserved. That was it. That was my opening line!

When we embraced, I started to tell her what the one good thing out of this was going to be, but she interrupted me and said, "The one good thing about this is, I don't have to use that damned kitchen anymore!" 

That's why I love her. That's why we can face this together and come out the other end just fine. We were made for each other.

Since that Facebook post on September 9th, much has happened in our lives.  We were lucky enough to find a place to live through a friend of a friend.  We moved in around the first of October.  It’s a nice temporary home.  I retired from Harry & David on November 18th and we’ve ordered our new home that will be placed at Mountain View Estates sometime in late summer 2021.  It will have a VERY nice kitchen.

We are really looking forward to being back home again…. in Talent.

Mountain View Estates (Ron's is the fifth one)

 



          Historic Malmgren Garage ca. 1925   located at 111 Talent Avenue
                                            Before and After the Fire
                                      

Photo courtesy of Willow McCloud

Intro

     The purpose of this blog is to document the history of the Almeda Fire. To protect contributors, we have intentionally not allowed comm...