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Things I learned from losing my home in the Almeda fire

“You need to try to get home if you can.” My husband called right after I had filmed our welcome back to school video. He was stuck on the highway on Sept. 8. I took the back roads trying to make it home to Autumn Ridge in Talent to grab my dogs. I grabbed little else and headed back to school unaware that it was the last time I’d ever see my house (or neighborhood) of 18 years.

I’ve learned a lot in the month since the fires that I hope will help others:

  • Make a list of what you need to grab if you have 10 minutes. I grabbed almost all the wrong things (dog toys, leashes) and not most of the precious items that made up the memories of our history.
  • Don’t rely on a fire safe. They’re only rated for a certain temperature for a period of time. This fire broke all records, but it’s not worth the gamble to rely that those important documents will still be there.
  • Get a list of your neighbors’ phone numbers. I didn’t know my neighbor couldn’t make it home. I was incredibly devastated to know I drove right past her house when I could’ve found a way to grab her dog.
  • Register products (more below).
  • Know your insurance coverage and ask a lot of questions. We found out we were underinsured but thankfully, at least, insured. Ask questions about debris removal, personal property, dwelling coverage, and length of time of the additional living expenses. Get specific.
  • Video not only your house contents but relatives, too. My mother-in-law with dementia doesn’t remember what she had.

If somehow your house does burn:

  • Call your insurance company immediately to get a claim going.
  • Call your mortgage company to put your payment on hold.
  • Reach out to the Red Cross and other agencies that help fire survivors. Helping Hands International sifted my house last week and found small treasures that I’ll be forever grateful for. They also grieved with us. When I tried sifting on my own, I cut myself and needed a tetanus shot.
  • Get a mailing company mailbox. They went quickly after the fire, but these companies can take all deliveries, not just mail. It’s a horrible feeling to not know where to send the things that will help you put your life back together.
  • Get a storage unit. We lived in seven locations in three weeks. People offered us furniture and other things that we needed once we found a stable place.
  • Go with the insurance adjuster to your site and make sure they understand completely what was there. Ours came from out of state, and we didn’t go, so he put rebuilding our house at only $130 a square foot (well below Rogue Valley averages). Help them understand if you can.
  • Obviously, once those things are situated, you can turn off utilities, contact elections offices to send ballots, fill out tax assessor forms, try to get vital records and do all the millions of other things that you will need to do while searching for a place to call home.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask the companies that you bought things from if they will replace or give you a discount on replacing items. It reminds me of the importance of registering my products. Also, stores in the Rogue Valley gave incredible, sacrificial discounts (thank you!).
  • While not all my neighbors will agree with this, I ask that if you haven’t driven through Phoenix and Talent to see the destruction that the fires caused that you do that. It was a community event that not only affected those who lost homes but the whole community, including those who are housing others, first responders, and those who must live around the devastation. It’s probably the educator in me, but I think it’s important for people to understand. I just ask that you don’t take anything from anyone’s site or take pictures or videos of people grieving.
  • The kindness of this community has been incredible. It has helped us heal in ways we will never be able to explain. I can’t thank you all enough. I also can’t thank the firefighters and police officers for their sacrifice. They are forever my heroes. They ran toward the place that I ran from. As for my family, I tell people that while this is not how it could be or should be, we will be OK — especially with this incredible community as support. Thank you!

Talent resident Sheryl Zimmerer, executive director of Logos Public Charter School, is currently living in Central Point.