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Good news amid the gloom for fire victims

Just when it seemed 2020 would never give us a break, residents displaced by the Almeda and Obenchain fires got two pieces of good news Monday.

First, and most welcome, officials announced that the state will cover any cost of removing ash and debris from burned home sites and business not already covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Until that announcement, it wasn’t clear who would be responsible for that expense.

Cleaning up and removing debris is estimated to cost $621 million locally. FEMA will pay most of that, but the state’s announcement was welcome news to worried property and business owners.

FEMA generally expects businesses to carry enough insurance to cover rebuilding costs, but that isn’t always the case. And residential fire insurance policies may not cover all cleanup costs either.

Jackson County commissioners wrote letters asking for free cleanup for all homes and businesses. That’s especially crucial in the case of manufactured home parks, which are a major component of the county’s affordable housing stock.

Hazardous material removal — the first step in the cleanup process — is largely finished. The Oregon Department of Transportation is taking the lead on the general debris removal.

As with the hazardous material cleanup, property owners must sign a right-of-entry form giving crews permission to work on private property. This is vitally important, and any property owner who hasn’t filed a form should do so without delay. Visit jacksoncounty.org/roe. More information is available at wildfire.oregon.gov/cleanup, or call the wildfire debris cleanup hotline at 503-934-1700.

The second piece of good news Monday was that FEMA has extended the deadline for fire victims to apply for disaster aid until Nov. 30. The original deadline was Monday. FEMA and other agency representatives will continue to be available in person at Central High School, 815 S. Oakdale Ave., Medford, through Saturday, Nov. 21. Online, go to disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-3362.

Even if you were initially denied aid, don’t give up. See the FEMA representatives this week. They are there to help victims navigate the bureaucracy.