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Trial by fire in Phoenix

My plan to spotlight a revitalized business, one that burned in the Almeda fire, escalated to adventure status once I met Paul Kay, owner/manager/mastermind of Rogue Water and Phoenix Industrial Studios — three buildings with 12 suites, all currently leased. They had stood directly in the fire’s path on South Pacific Highway.

Welburn Electric’s shop, next door, became a pile of charred rubble that night, joining Paul Kay’s shop in the wreckage. Welburn leases two of Phoenix Industrial Studios’ spaces and will rebuild on its former site.

The suites opened last summer amid the pandemic. Clyde’s Corner (more later) had been open three weeks with outdoor dining before the world changed.

Paul related the memory of that night. “Three of us, myself, Rafa, the co-owner of Clyde’s Corner, and Steve, the chef, spent the night by the water tower and the neighbor’s house chasing down sparks and flames. So, that night and for three days and nights after, we took shifts. The first night we got through it on adrenaline and candy bars.” Their neighbor’s home survived.

“The entire property was swept with flames from front to back. My workshop threw all kinds of flaming missiles to these buildings.”

The new buildings didn’t ignite; the wetlands on the roof had absorbed the heat. Rooftop plants were scorched but are reemerging.

The following day, a Phoenix building official inspected the water tower and the other fire-resistant new buildings to study real-world results of building codes.

As we toured the property, Paul shared the stories of two trees of the many beloved trees that were scorched or didn’t survive the trauma, one a 75-year-old silver maple now propped to life using charred timber, the other a century-old Oregon ash, now resprouting.

As miraculous a story of survival as this is, there’s more to Phoenix Industrial Studios than meets the eye. The future replanting, health and proliferation of plant life along Bear Creek and elsewhere is part of the story. The plants that survived the flames will be sustained and multiplied in wetland planter boxes located around the complex and on the roof. It’s the Rogue Water portion of Paul Kay’s overall plan.

Paul explains, “Rogue Water is an innovator and educator in the field of phytotechnology, which is ‘the strategic use of plants to solve environmental problems by remediating the qualities and quantities of our soil, water and air resources and by restoring ecosystem services in managed landscapes.’ (https://phytosociety.org/)

“Rogue Water designs and builds, and teaches how to design and build floating wetland nursery systems, which filter pollutants from water in the process of growing plants. The Almeda fire consumed nearly 100% of inventory along with all prototypes and exhibits developed over the past 20-plus years. Rogue Water is presently developing plant-based water treatment systems at Phoenix Industrial Studios.”

The complex is recognizable by the water tower built from a design using an old Harry & David tower Paul restored 20 years prior. At the top sits a 3,000-gallon tank for holding 25,000 pounds of water.

They plan to conduct tours in the future to light a spark (sorry) in others to carry on. Paul enjoys explaining the fascinating details.

The consortium of clients who share the space are diverse. Among them are Welburn Electric, Catalyst Wine Collective, AgoStyx (a chemical research and development company), Crooked Mile Gallery, Northwest Ceramics (offering classes and items for purchase), Organico’s Bakery (with tasty gluten-free, vegan breads and sweets), Phoenix Industrial Studios’ office and workshop, The Perfect Measuring Tape Company, and Clyde’s Corner, a popular gathering spot offering wood-fired pizzas and thirst-quenchers.

We’d worked up an appetite, so Clyde’s beckoned. The joint was jumping, even on a 52-degree evening. Folks sat bundled outdoors because the inside was full. A couple of tables had heaters nearby, and the rest of us put on our Oregon tough and ate great pie. Lane and I shared a roasted corn/Brussels sprouts and a mushroom/pesto — both delicious.

Paul Kay and his integrated ideas are not only helping to rejuvenate Phoenix, but his efforts are bringing us all closer for a safer and healthier future.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.