Rogue Valley News, Monday, 9/14 – Updates on Obenchain and Almeda Fires; Deaths Reported by Jackson County Officials

The latest news stories and stories of interest in the Rogue Valley and around the state of Oregon from the online digital home of the valley, RogueValleyMagazine.com, from Wynne Broadcasting.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Rogue Valley Weather

Today   Widespread smoke. Cloudy, with a high near 75. Calm wind becoming northwest around 6 mph in the afternoon.   Overnight, widespread smoke. Cloudy, with a low around 58. Northwest wind 6 to 11 mph becoming light and variable in the evening.

Tuesday   Areas of smoke. Cloudy through mid morning, then gradual clearing, with a high near 80. Calm wind becoming north northwest around 5 mph in the afternoon.  Overnight, cloudy, with a low around 59. West northwest wind 5 to 8 mph becoming calm in the evening.

Wednesday  Patchy smoke. Cloudy, with a high near 84. Calm wind.

Thursday  A chance of showers, with thunderstorms also possible after 2pm. Partly sunny, with a high near 80. Chance of precipitation is 50%.

Friday   Showers likely, mainly after 11am. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 74.

Saturday   A slight chance of showers. Sunny, with a high near 77.

Today’s Headlines

Sad news from Jackson County over the weekend. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office announced 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 this afternoon. Evacuation levels have been lowered for much of the county.

State, federal, county and tribal partners are fully engaged in response and recovery efforts for the more than 30 fires burning statewide in Oregon. With thick smoke limiting aviation resources, firefighters are struggling to contain the fires, the largest of which is more than 55 miles wide. 

More than 1 million acres have burned, leaving thousands of Oregonians displaced from their homes. A total of 3,023 people are currently being supported in shelters run by local counties, the state and the American Red Cross. Shelters are following COVID-19 guidance for group and non-congregate settings to limit spread of the virus. Many evacuated Oregonians are sheltering with friends and family, while others are staying in RVs or vehicles. The American Red Cross has temporary shelters available throughout western Oregon, and those shelters have space available for more evacuees. For a list of temporary shelters, see the Red Cross Oregon website.  

Help donations go where they are needed most
Though well intended, please do not take donations to evacuation centers. Counties have received an influx of donations of materials they are unable to distribute. Unsolicited goods burden local organizations’ ability to meet survivors’ confirmed needs, drawing away valuable volunteer labor, transportation and warehouse space.  

At this time, the best way for the public to help people who are affected by wildfires is to make a financial contribution to the American Red Cross or one of the certified organizations that are members of Oregon Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. These on-the-ground organizations know what items and quantities are needed, often buy in bulk with discounts and, if possible, purchase through businesses local to the disaster, which supports economic recovery.

To donate food, water and other items, reach out to your local food pantry or Community Action Partnership to see if they are able to receive donations. Find food pantries at https://foodfinder.oregonfoodbank.org/.  Community Action Partnership of Oregon: https://caporegon.org/   Phone: 503-316-3951

Almeda Fire Update
As of Monday morning, the Almeda Fire had minimal growth and is currently 60 percent contained. 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.

Fire crews continue to urge all citizens to stay away from evacuation zones as crews actively work to address hazardous conditions.

Temperatures are expected to reach the mid 80s and remain for the next several days. Air quality conditions are hazardous.    As the Almeda Fire transitions to a more stabilized phase of the incident, we have begun to plan for the recovery phase.

A hazardous materials team will be arriving from Coos County as well as an Urban Search and Rescue Team with members from Utah and Nevada. These 2 teams will be assisting with damage assessment, hazard mitigation as well as detailed searches.

Persons with respiratory illnesses should remain indoors to avoid inhaling smoke. If driving, slow down, use your headlights, and leave plenty of distance ahead of you. Visit Oregon Health Authority’s dedicated webpage for health resources related to wildfire smoke. The health and safety of Rogue Valley communities and fire crews continues to be our top priority. Our best management practices include a zero-tolerance policy for proper COVID-19 PPE, proper distancing and minimizing our physical interactions within the community. Shelter for homeowners affected by the fire can contact the Jackson County Expo at 541-774-8274-8270.

Obenchain fire update for Monday

The Jackson County Sheriff’s office is in charge of evacuations in the area. We will will share any alerts/updates that are released.

Please see the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office website for the most up to date information.
https://jacksoncountyor.org/sher…/…/evacuation-levels-issued
Jackson County Emergency Management Website link is below.
https://jcgis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html…

South Obenchain Fire Update

Northwest Incident Management Team 8, Incident Commander, Doug Johnson
Oregon State Fire Marshal Incident Management Blue Team, Incident Commander, Scott Magers
September 14, 2020 – 9:00 AM.


The life and safety of the public and all wildland fire responders is always the number one priority for all fire agencies. To keep firefighters and communities healthy and safe, all firefighters are asked to follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reduce the spread of illness. This also includes limited entry into the incident command post and base camp. Please see the websites below or contact the Jackson County Emergency Management Office at (541) 776-7338 for further fire information.


Current situation: The south and western containment lines of the fire perimeter have held for several shifts. Crews continue to improve and mop up the interior of the established lines, in many places up to 300 feet. Improvement of dozer and hand lines along with some hazard tree removal will continue on the northern edge, in the Indian Creek area, as crews transition into the mop up phase. Northwest Incident Management Team 8 Deputy Incident Commander Kevin Stock told crews at morning briefing “We have taken advantage of the weather and smoke cover to reduce loss of property and resources. I really want to thank everyone for their hard work to get us to this point.”
The fire did make a small push to the east, into the old Double Day Fire (2008) scar late yesterday. The night shift worked to get a primary line in place. Available resources will be located in the area to get a containment line in place.

Four task forces of structural engines with the Oregon State Fire Marshal, are working along the Butte Falls Highway and in the Shady Cove area triaging and providing point protection.


Acreage: 32,031
Containment: 20%
Cause: Under investigation
Fire Information: (541) 776-7338
E-mail: SouthObenchainFire@gmail.com
Information Websites:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SouthObenchainFire
Inciweb: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/7185
Air Quality: oregonsmoke.blogspot.com

Evacuations: Evacuations orders are in place to protect the public and the fire fighters that are working to control the fire. Please adhere to the evacuation level issued for your area. See the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office website for a full description of the evacuation levels. Link is below.


https://jacksoncountyor.org/sher…/…/evacuation-levels-issued
Jackson County Emergency Management Website link is below.
https://jcgis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html…


Donations: Anyone looking to make donations to help individuals and families that have been displaced by the Almeda and South Obenchain fires can visit Accesshelp.org. website.
ACCESS provides food, warmth, shelter, and other essential services to Jackson County’s low-income children, families, seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities. As the Community Action Agency of Jackson County, Oregon, ACCESS has been helping residents break the cycle of poverty since 1976. Last year, 52,497 people received assistance from ACCESS’s broad continuum of services, including obtaining safe, affordable housing, rental assistance, utility assistance, weatherization, free loaned durable medical equipment and healthy food.
https://www.accesshelps.org/

Shelter Location: The evacuation shelter is located at the Jackson County Expo Center, 1 Penninger Rd. in Central Point, Oregon where care and services are available such as food, medical care, bathroom and showers.
Weather: Cloudy smoke will continue. Temperatures will be cooler mid to high 70’s, minimum relative humidity 30%, light winds southeast shifting to the west in afternoon.


Resources-669: 1-type 1 hand crew, 1-type 2 initial attack crew, 19-type 2 crews, 3- light helicopters, 5-medium helicopters, 4- heavy helicopters, 36-engines, 26-dozers, 29-water tenders and 1-skidder.
Temporary Flight Restrictions: For the safety of the firefighters and aircraft fighting the South Obenchain Fire, a temporary flight restriction has been placed over the fire area. Please consult the Notice to Airman for specifics. An unmanned aircraft (UAS) was reported over the fire area. If you fly, we can’t. The entire air operation must be shut down until the air space is reported clear.
Closure: The Bureau of Land Management has closed public lands in and near the South Obenchain Fire to all forms of public access. In addition, the Medford District has temporarily closed all Bureau of Land Management-administered public lands south of Grants Pass, Interstate 5, and U.S. Route 199 to the border of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. To view the closure order and map in its entirety:: https://www.blm.gov/…/r…/oregon-washington/fire-restrictions or call 818-975-0419 for more information about the closure.

COVID-19 has claimed five more lives in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 509.  Oregon Health Authority reported 185 new cases yesterday, bringing the state total to 29,337. Jackson County reported 13 new cases.  Five new cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Josephine County, bringing the county’s total number of cases to 178.

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases around the state are in Benton (2), Clackamas (9), Curry (1), Deschutes (3), Douglas (1), Gilliam (1), Jackson (13), Jefferson (1), Josephine (5), Lane (8), Lincoln (1), Linn (3), Malheur (26), Marion (27), Morrow (1), Multnomah (38), Polk (6), Umatilla (6), Wasco (1), Washington (33).

Firefighters slowed the growth of the Two Four Two Fire near Chiloquin over the weekend and Saturday, encircling the blaze with fire line that held over most of the weekend. The fire is at 14,584 acres today and just an estimated 12% contained.

Winds picked up again late yesterday. There are no known injuries or fatalities. Hundreds of residents have since returned to the Oregon Shores, Woodland Park, Rainbow Park areas as well as others in the area of the fire. As of Saturday just 55 homes remained evacuated. Crews were able to save every structure in Rainbow Park and Woodland Park, which Klamath County Emergency Manager Brandon Fowler said was a big accomplishment. Officials are also warning people to stay away from the fire area unless you live there. They are asking that only residents return to keep the streets open for emergency crews and necessary traffic.

CHEMULT, Ore. – The Chemult Ranger District office is closed until further notice due to incident management team needs for the Thielsen Fire currently burning on the Umpqua National Forest.

For public and firefighter health and safety, the decision was made to close the Chemult office to anyone not assigned to the incident, including Forest employees and the public.

Visitor information, including maps, permits and Matsutake mushroom season information is available by contacting the Chiloquin Ranger District at 541-783-4001 or the Klamath Ranger District at 541-883-6714.

Hardcopy packets for Matsutake mushroom harvest are available at the Chiloquin Ranger District, 38500 Hwy 97 N in Chiloquin, and at the Klamath Ranger District, 2819 Dahlia St. in Klamath Falls.

Matsutake and personal use firewood permit information can also be found online at https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/fremont-winema/passes-permits/forestproducts.

For more information on the Fremont-Winema National Forest, visit www.fs.usda.gov/fremont-winema, follow the Forest on Twitter @FremontWinemaNF or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/r6fwnf.

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office issued a Level 3 (Go) evacuation notice for the Brattain Fire burning southwest of Paisley on Satuday. The Level 3 “Go” notice was for all residents of Paisley from Red House Lane, south on Highway 31 to Clover Flat Road onto Clover Flat Road to Forest Service Road 3510 (Moss Pass Road).

The Red Cross is establishing an evacuation area at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Lakeview. There will be fire information there as well. For those in the evacuation area, it is anticipated there will be congestion on Highway 31, fire traffic and temporary loss of power. Please use caution leaving the area.

Around the state of Oregon

State, federal, county and tribal partners are fully engaged in response and recovery efforts for the more than 30 fires burning statewide in Oregon.

With thick smoke limiting aviation resources, firefighters are struggling to contain the fires, the largest of which is more than 55 miles wide. 

More than 1 million acres have burned, leaving thousands of Oregonians displaced from their homes. A total of 3,023 people are currently being supported in shelters run by local counties, the state and the American Red Cross. Shelters are following COVID-19 guidance for group and non-congregate settings to limit spread of the virus. Many evacuated Oregonians are sheltering with friends and family, while others are staying in RVs or vehicles. The American Red Cross has temporary shelters available throughout western Oregon, and those shelters have space available for more evacuees. For a list of temporary shelters, see the Red Cross Oregon website.  

Help donations go where they are needed most
Though well intended, please do not take donations to evacuation centers. Counties have received an influx of donations of materials they are unable to distribute. Unsolicited goods burden local organizations’ ability to meet survivors’ confirmed needs, drawing away valuable volunteer labor, transportation and warehouse space.  

At this time, the best way for the public to help people who are affected by wildfires is to make a financial contribution to the American Red Cross or one of the certified organizations that are members of Oregon Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. These on-the-ground organizations know what items and quantities are needed, often buy in bulk with discounts and, if possible, purchase through businesses local to the disaster, which supports economic recovery.

To donate food, water and other items, reach out to your local food pantry or Community Action Partnership to see if they are able to receive donations. Find food pantries at https://foodfinder.oregonfoodbank.org/.  Community Action Partnership of Oregon: https://caporegon.org/   Phone: 503-316-3951

Help find and reunite loved ones: 
OEM urges the public to update information on their status with the Red Cross. Let loved ones know you are safe at the American Red Cross Safe and Well Website. State emergency managers encourage people affected by the fires, whether or not they have evacuated, to register on the site. It is a helpful tool that can bring relief to people looking for loved ones during these fires, and help inform search efforts. 

Members of the 142nd Wing are deploying in support of efforts to contain and mitigate multiple wildland fires raging across the state of Oregon.   75 Airmen departed Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore. at 0900 today. They will be serving first in Echo Mountain, south of Salem, Ore., then dispersing to wherever they are needed. 

Monday ODOT update for Southwest Oregon

*Almeda Fire area between north Ashland-south Medford:Oregon 99 is still closed to the public between north Ashland (South Valley View Drive) and south Medford (South Stage Road) for fire operations. This includes the cities of Talent and Phoenix. I-5 Talent Exit 21 remains closed. I-5 Phoenix Exit 24 is closed to the west, but open to the east.


No pedestrians will be allowed to cross I-5 Exit 24 Phoenix.


*Obenchain Fire area: All of Oregon 62 north of Oregon 234 north is closed. This includes the OR 62 north and east from U.S. 97.


*Archie Fire & Diamond Lake area fires: Oregon 138E remains closed from Idleyld east to the junction of U.S. 97.


*Slater Fire in Illinois Valley: U.S. 199 (Redwood Highway) remains closed from the OR/Cal border north to near Cave Junction. (Also closed in California)

Dense Wildfire Smoke Statewide:
With heavy smoke blanketing much of southwest Oregon, ODOT reminds drivers the best thing they can do to stay safe is avoid driving unless absolutely necessary.
Remember to check conditions if you must head out. A number of roads remain closed throughout the state. Go to Tripcheck.com or call 5-1-1 for real time road conditions.
If you encounter heavy smoke while driving here are some steps you can take to help stay safe:
* Slow down and stay alert. Slow driving gives you more time to respond to unexpected conditions.
* Turn on your headlights. Even during daylight hours your headlights will help others on the road see you. Use low-beams as high-beams reflect off the moisture in the air and cause glare.
* Use fog lights. If you have them, fog lights can help cut through the smoke.
* Keep plenty of space between you and other vehicles. Visibility, of course, decreases in smoke so maintain a safe stopping distance between you and the vehicle up front.
* If visibility becomes too dangerous to continue, pull off to the side of the road as soon as safely possible.
* Never stop in a travel lane. Look for a safe area completely off the road if possible and turn off all lights, including flashers, until it’s safe to continue.
* Don’t tailgate. Keep a steady, reliable pace. Remember that everyone else on the road is in the same fix you’re in. They’re counting on you to help show the way.
Do not put yourself at risk by using forest roads to get around fire closure areas.

Congressman Greg Walden toured the destruction caused by the Almeda Fire and the evacuation location at the Jackson County Expo. The congressmen took time to meet with local officials that are responding to the fire and the following investigations as well as the organizers at the Expo to get an idea of what kind of support Southern Oregon need Lawmakers say that aid from FEMA is on its way. The congressmen say they’ve been in contact with the Governor’s office and highlighted the reason an additional declaration might take a few days.

A Southern Oregon man is accused of arson in connection with a fire that has caused major damage to several towns in Jackson County. Michael Jarrod Bakkela, 41, has arrested on two counts of arson, 15 counts of criminal mischief and 14 counts of reckless endangerment. The fire Bakkela set is considered to be one of two origins of the Almeda fire, said Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office spokesman Rich Tyler. The two fires quickly merged, Tyler said. Bakkela was arrested and initially lodged in the Jackson County Jail on Tuesday on a charge of possession of methamphetamine. He remains in jail on the arson and criminal mischief charges.

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