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.
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Rogue Valley Weather
Today Mostly sunny, with a high near 84. Overnight, rain likely, mainly after 11pm. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 55. West wind 5 to 14 mph becoming south in the evening. Winds could gust as high as 21 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70%. New precipitation amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch possible.
Thursday A 50 percent chance of showers, mainly before 11am. Partly sunny, with a high near 72.
Friday Mostly sunny, with a high near 74.
Saturday Mostly sunny, with a high near 81
Jackson County officials are preparing to open a new resource center at the old Central Medford High School building for those displaced by wildfires, and are 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.
Jackson County Public Health reported on Tuesday that a fifth person in the county has died due to coronavirus.
The patient was a 76-year-old man who tested positive on September 10 and died on Friday, September 18, at Providence Medford Medical Center. The man had underlying medical conditions — though, as has been the usual for Oregon public health reports on COVID-19 deaths, those conditions were not specified.
The last Jackson County death attributed to COVID-19, a 72-year-old woman, happened last Tuesday at Providence. Neighboring Josephine and Klamath counties remain with two deaths each since the pandemic began.
Jackson County Public Health also reported 12 new cases of the virus on Thursday, bringing the county total to 1,069. At least 162 of those cases are still considered “active infectious.”
Hospitalizations in the county as of Monday were at 77 since the pandemic began — up from 10 at the beginning of July. Though the majority of active cases remain among younger people — between the ages of 20 and 50 — hospitalizations overwhelmingly occur among patients over the age of 50.
Jackson County was placed on the watch list August 20 amid a spike in new cases that has gradually started to decrease over the past several weeks. It was removed from the watch list on September 11 after community spread cases dropped.
COVID-19 has claimed three more lives in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 532, the Oregon Health Authority reported today.
Oregon Health Authority reported 328 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 bringing the state total to 31,313.
Klamath County Public Health Director Jennifer Little encourages everyone to follow CDC guidelines. These include regular handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
Avoid close contact with anyone sick and place six feet of distance between yourself and people who don’t live in your household. Remember that some people without symptoms may still be able to spread the virus.
Jackson County Sheriff’s Office Identify Murder Victim
On September 18, 2020 at 1924 hours, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to a report of a fatal stabbing in the Elderberry Flats area near Wimer, OR.
A suspect, Branden Rex Stansell, DOB 07-24-00, was lodged at County Jail on September 21, 2020 on charges of Murder II and Assault I.
The identity of the victim has now been released after next of kin were notified. The victim is Matthew James Joseph Stephens, DOB 03-07-1997. He had been staying at homes of friends in the area.
The Jackson County Grand Jury will review the case on September 24, 2020. Further information will be released by the Jackson County District Attorney’s Office.
OREGON SNAP RECIPIENTS WHO LOST FOOD DUE TO WILDFIRES MAY BE ELIGIBLE FOR REPLACEMENT BENEFITS
The Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) is currently processing replacement benefit requests for individuals who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and who suffered loss of food due to the wildfires.
SNAP recipients who lost or disposed of food that was unsafe to eat, can request SNAP replacement benefits. Current SNAP recipients should contact their local ODHS office as soon as possible to find out if they are eligible.
Replacement benefits are available to existing SNAP recipients who:
- Lost food due to a power outage
- Lost food due to home damage
- Request replacement benefits within 10 calendar days of experiencing food loss
Replacement benefits are not automatic. The amount of replacement benefits each SNAP recipient will receive is based on their monthly issuance.
SNAP customers can contact their local ODHS SSP, APD or AAA office for more information. Find a local office at: oregon.gov/DHS/Offices/Pages/index.aspx.
For other ways to connect with DHS, contact 211info:
Around the state of Oregon
The Holiday Farm fire sits at 20% containment, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.
Decisions and options are being made this week as evacuees are still waiting here at the hotels in Eugene. Some are wondering when they can go home, and some don’t have a home to go home to.
If you’ve been evacuated and wondering when you go back, or wondering about the status of your home, call the Holiday Farm non-emergency line at: 541-682-3977.
Structural damage assessments inside the Holiday Farm Fire perimeter found 431 homes and 24 other structures were destroyed by the fire.
The Oregon Department of Transportation said Highway 126 remains closed between Leaburg Dam Road and Blue River Drive.
“Hazard tree removal continues throughout the closure area,” ODOT said. “Residents accessing reopened areas are asked to avoid barricaded locations for their own safety.”
Officials also urge residents returning to the fire zone to use caution near damaged structures.
“Fire-damaged structures can be extremely hazardous and residents are encouraged to have professionals assess and deal with damaged areas once those areas open for return,” the county and state cautioned. “Serious hazards can include unstable and falling debris, toxic substance exposure including asbestos and eye/lung/skin impact from ash and other irritants.”
You can find the database and more resources on the county website.
A non-emergency call center for Holiday Farm Fire questions is also available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 541-682-3977.
The list of missing and unaccounted for people thus far in the Holiday Farm Fire now stands at zero, the Lane County Sheriff’s Office said yesterday. More than 200 people were reported missingafter the fire broke out late on Labor Day. One person was found dead inside the fire perimeter.
“The list of missing or unaccounted for persons related to the Holiday Farm fire is at ZERO thanks to the hard work of the Lane County Sheriff’s Office Missing Persons Specialist, Detectives, and retired Detectives who worked tirelessly with families and friends of loved ones tracking down folks who were reported as missing from within the fire perimeter,” the sheriff’s office said.
Several Oregon businesses have threatened a class-action lawsuit against the state over COVID-19 restrictions implemented by Gov. Kate Brown to slow the spread of the virus.
The Oregonian/OregonLive reports a lawyer representing the businesses argues that Oregon officials should create a plan to compensate small business owners for financial hardship caused by those restrictions.
The demand letter was filed on behalf of a Linn County salon, a Coos County bowling alley and the Wilsonville Family Fun Center, better known as Bullwinkle’s.
Brown’s office said Monday it doesn’t comment on pending or potential litigation.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday that it has identified Portland, Seattle, and New York City as jurisdictions that have permitted violence and destruction of property and that have refused to undertake reasonable measures to counteract criminal activities.
The declaration comes in response to President Donald Trump’s memorandum from Sept. 2, 2020. The memorandum is titled “Memorandum on Reviewing Funding to State and Local Government Recipients That Are Permitting Anarchy, Violence, and Destruction in American Cities.”
In a statement regarding the announcement, U.S. Attorney General William Barr said, “When state and local leaders impede their own law enforcement officers and agencies from doing their jobs, it endangers innocent citizens who deserve to be protected, including those who are trying to peacefully assemble and protest… We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance. It is my hope that the cities identified by the Department of Justice today will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens.”
Jackson County Sheriff’s Office Arrests Murder Suspect
On September 18, 2020 at 1924 hours, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to a report of a fatal stabbing in the Elderberry Flats area of outside of Wimer, OR. The reporting party was at the scene during the incident. On arrival, deputies found one male adult deceased. The suspect was contacted later after he left the scene.
The investigation lead to the arrest of Brenden Rex Stansell, birth date 07/24/2000, he is an Eagle Point area transient. The arrest was made on 092120. Stansell has been lodged at Jackson County Jail on charges of Murder Second Degree and Assault First Degree. The Murder II charge is no bail.
Identity of the victim is not being released pending notification of next of kin.
Umpqua Bank, a subsidiary of Umpqua Holdings Corporation (NASDAQ: UMPQ), today announced a package of relief and support for communities, customers and associates impacted by the devastating wildfires raging across the West Coast.
“The personal loss experienced by so many people from these historic wildfires is truly incalculable. As a bank, we’ve experienced the devastation firsthand, including the complete loss of one of our stores in Phoenix, Oregon,” said Umpqua Bank CEO Cort O’Haver. “The road to recovery will take time, but Umpqua is committed to doing all we can to help our communities rebuild what’s been lost.”
Today’s announcement comes as wildfires in Oregon, Washington and California have already consumed more than five million acres and resulted in at least 36 deaths. In response to the devastation, Umpqua has activated relief programs for community, customers and associates to support both immediate needs and longer-term recovery efforts.
Umpqua has committed $750,000 in relief funding for impacted communities. This includes $100,000 for both response and recovery efforts in the coming weeks. An additional $650,000 is allocated for community organizations helping small businesses and local economies recover. The bank has also activated a 3:1 corporate match for associates donating to nonprofits supporting those impacted by the wildfires, as well as expanded its Virtual Volunteer program to support the many Umpqua associates currently volunteering time and resources to recovery efforts.
The bank has activated its Disaster Relief Loan Program to provide impacted customers quick access to cash as needed, as well as to help them recover financially. Mortgage relief options for homeowners impacted by natural disasters are also being actively made available, and the bank will work with all impacted customers to defer or waive any costs associated with their Umpqua accounts incurred as a direct result of the wildfires.
For the many Umpqua associates directly impacted by the wildfires, the bank has initiated an emergency assistance fund. In addition to providing direct financial support to these associates, the bank is also providing impacted associates access to a wide variety of services to meet their immediate and long-term needs.
“Especially in moments like this, we want our communities and people to know they’re not alone,” said O’Haver. “In addition to this initial relief, Umpqua will continue partnering closely with local leaders and organizations to help those we serve recover and move forward.”
At least half a dozen men are facing accusations of intentionally starting fires in Oregon. The Oregonian reports there’s no evidence the suspects were motivated by politics, as conspiracy theories claim. The newspaper reports one suspect was found setting fires in late July because a member of a local forest protection group wouldn’t give him a ride. Police arrested another suspect late last month after he allegedly threatened to burn down a small town if his girlfriend broke up with him. A homeless man is accused of setting a string of brush fires along an Interstate in the Portland area earlier this month.
Protests are getting back underway in Portland following a week-long hiatus due to wildfire smoke. The Oregonian reports between 100 and 200 angry protesters gathered downtown Saturday night to demonstrate against racial injustice. Police say no arrests were made. The previous night, protesters gathered near the ICE facility in South Portland.
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office said late Saturday that it had recovered human remains on the North Fork Road property of legendary environmentalist George Atiyeh.
The agency said it is still waiting for positive identification from the Marion County Medical Examiner’s Office.
The remains were recovered Thursday. Atiyeh, 72, who played a central role in saving Opal Creek from clear-cutters, would be the state’s ninth fatality from wildfires.
Today the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) provided the agency’s first look at how COVID-19 has impacted hospital revenue during this public health crisis. Hospital revenue and operating margins suffered steep drops at the end of March, likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the first time OHA is releasing its quarterly hospital financial reports as an interactive online dashboard. The dashboard allows users to interact with hospital financial data from 2007 to 2020, displayed monthly or quarterly.
“The broad health and economic impacts of COVID-19 highlight why we need a sustainable health care system that ensures everyone has access to quality, affordable care when they need it,” said Jeremy Vandehey, OHA’s director of health policy and analytics.
Hospitals ended 2019 in a strong financial position, with revenue outpacing expenses. Net patient revenue increased 7.3% compared with the fourth quarter of 2018, while operating expenses increased only 1.2%. Uncompensated care remained essentially flat during that period. Hospitals closed out 2019 with a robust median operating margin of 4.2%.
However, the strong fourth quarter of 2019 stands in stark contrast to the first quarter of 2020. Oregon’s first COVID-19 case was identified on February 28, 2020. To conserve hospital capacity and preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) for the COVID-19 emergency, on March 19, 2020, Governor Kate Brown issued executive order 20-10, prohibiting elective and non-urgent medical procedures.
Decreases in hospital utilization in March led to a drop in patient revenue. At the same time, hospital expenses continued to increase, leading to large drops in operating margins in the first quarter of 2020. A drop in hospital stocks exacerbated the losses.
Key findings from the report include:
- Statewide total margin fell from 9.3% in the first quarter of 2019 to -8.8% in the first quarter of 2020, a decrease of 19.4 percentage points.
- Median statewide total margin fell 11.3 percentage points, from 6.7% to -4.6% in the same time period.
- Statewide net patient revenue was down slightly, $22.7 million or -0.6%, when compared with the first quarter of 2019.
- Total operating expenses remained on trend, increasing $215 million, 6.3%, when compared with the first quarter of 2019.
The first quarter financial reports don’t reflect financial assistance that was provided to the health system in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The second quarter hospital financial reports, released later this fall, will reflect federal and state grants or other assistance that was provided to hospitals to stabilize and support the health system.
Several Oregon businesses have threatened a class action lawsuit against the state over COVID-19 restrictions implemented by Gov. Kate Brown to slow the pandemic. A lawyer representing the businesses argues that Oregon officials should draft a plan to compensate small business owners for financial hardship caused by those restrictions, The Oregonian/OregonianLive reported yesterday.
The demand letter was filed on behalf of a Linn County salon, a Coos County bowling alley and the Wilsonville Family Fun Center, better known as Bullwinkle’s.
“As a result of your orders, my clients and many other businesses like theirs closed as ordered and thousands of workers found themselves without employment,” attorney John DiLorenzo wrote in a tort claim letter to the state Friday.
Brown’s office said Monday it doesn’t comment on pending or potential litigation. DiLorenzo is one of the state’s most high-profile attorneys, having most recently won a $1 billion jury verdict against the state for failing to maximize timber harvests. The state has appealed.
Firefighters continue to make progress on several wildfires burning across the state of Oregon. Fire officials say the Riverside Fire burning in Clackamas County is now 25-percent contained at 137-thousand-971 acres.
The deadly Beachie Creek fire in the Santiam Canyon is now 38-percent contained at 192-thousand-736 acres. And, the Lionshead Fire is now 13-percent contained at nearly 199-thousand acres. The National Interagency Coordination Center says only three fires grew more than one-thousand acres from Sunday into Monday, while six of the state’s largest fires didn’t grow at all.
The sudden wildfires that torched more than 1 million acres across Oregon this month completely destroyed at least seven marijuana businesses and damaged at least dozen more, according to preliminary state survey data.
Marijuana has rapidly grown into a major Oregon industry, with sales topping $100 million a month during the pandemic. Oregon sales were up 41% through August and are on track to top $1 billion for the first time.
The wildfires appear to have directly affected a tiny percentage of the state’s 2,300 licensees but it’s too soon to know whether that destruction and other indirect impacts might have a broader effect on this year’s crop.
Deputies investigating a fatal stabbing on Friday night later arrested a young transient man in connection with the crime, according to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies responded to the Elderberry Flats area outside of Wimer shortly before 7:30 p.m. on Friday night, arriving to find a man dead at the scene. The person who called 911 to report the stabbing was present during the incident, JCSO said.
The investigation later led to the arrest of 20-year-old Brenden Rex Stansell, who JCSO said is a transient in the Eagle Point area. Stansell was taken into custody on Monday. Stansell faces charges of Murder in the Second Degree and Assault in the First Degree, and is being held without bail. The identity of the victim has not yet been released, and JCSO says that his next-of-kin is being notified. This is a developing story and will be updated with more details as they emerge.