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RVs roll in for fire survivors

Almost 600 fire survivors have found temporary homes in hotel rooms, but many will soon go through the stress and confusion of being relocated once again.

By the end of the month, 89 available spaces at Southern Oregon RV Park next to the Jackson County Expo will be filled with recreational vehicles that will house those displaced by the Almeda and South Obenchain fires last summer.

Other RV parks, including one at Emigrant Lake, are also being looked at for more recreational vehicles. State RV parks are also being considered.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has started installing the trailers, including building steps and a porch area. Other organizations and local residents have also donated RVs.

Because of COVID-19, 572 fire survivors are housed in 282 hotel rooms locally rather than sleeping in auditoriums typically set up as emergency shelters with cots.

After the Sept. 8 fires, the Red Cross did set up an emergency shelter at The Expo, but it has been phased out.

Rick Rawlins, crisis and outpatient services manager of Jackson County Mental Health, said his team has helped track down survivors who have received notices or warning but never got back to the Red Cross.

“The Red Cross has given some of them an end date to leave that hotel,” he said.

Rawlins estimates that his team needs to contact a couple dozen people who received the notices.

To get help, the survivors need to show some kind of proof that they were impacted by the fires or complete other documentation.

He said the task force will work with survivors to develop individualized plans to make sure they get the resources they need.

Other survivors initially found temporary shelter with friends or families, but their living conditions have changed.

“They’re now needing to find new shelter for a variety of reasons,” Rawlins said.

Jackson County has partnered with ACCESS’s Continuum of Care and Oregon State University Extension Service to form a taskforce to collaborate with state and federal agencies to deal with the changing shelter needs of fire survivors.

Apartments are difficult to find and are more expensive than the more affordable housing options that were destroyed in the Almeda fire.

Jerry Dyer, who lived in Northridge Terrace in Phoenix, has been living out of an RV that a friend and co-worker lent him just after the fire destroyed his duplex, along with most of his possessions.

“We only had seven minutes to get out,” he said. “I lost all my Oakland Raiders shot glasses.” He also lost his Harley-Davidson.

A sports referee who drove charter buses, Dyer has taken an early retirement at age 63 to deal with the drastic change in his living condition. At the same time, his wife has been battling colon cancer.

Their RV is at Southern Oregon RV Park, which was built by the county in 2016.

“We’re trying to get out of this place,” he said. “But the cheapest studios we’ve found are $1,500 a month.” Previously their two-bedroom apartment was $675 a month. Dyer said there is still a lot of cleanup left to do at Northridge Terrace and he’s doubtful he’ll be able to move back into it after it gets rebuilt.

Next door to Dyer at the RV Park, FEMA has been setting up recreational vehicle trailers, building steps and small decks to allow easier access into them.

So far, 22 sites at Jackson County RV have trailers being set up for fire survivors.

While Dyer isn’t in the best situation because of the fire, he said, “We don’t like to call ourselves victims. We still have a place to stay.”

Recreational vehicles seem to be one of the best options to house people for the longer term because many survivors are unsure how or when they will find a permanent housing solution. It’s also a way to maintain social distancing during the pandemic.

Finding enough RV spaces is a priority for local officials.

“We’re exploring all options in the county,” said Steve Lambert, program manager for Jackson County Parks.

He said the Red Cross has helped shelter many of the fire survivors at local hotels.

At the RV park, 19 families have donated trailers. Rogue Retreat has also partnered with Phoenix-Talent schools for trailers.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.

{ }Construction crews work with FEMA to build decks for homes at the Southern Oregon RV Park. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune