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State: Fire debris cleanup free for all homes, businesses

The state of Oregon announced Monday it will provide free fire debris cleanup for all homes and businesses hit by disastrous September fires, including properties burned by the Almeda and South Obenchain fires in Jackson County.

The smaller task of picking out the hazardous debris from burned sites was already being covered at no cost. That work is nearly done.

It wasn’t clear before Monday who would pay the estimated $621 million price tag for the monumental task of clearing away ash, rubble, metal mobile home bases, burned vehicles, damaged trees and other leftover debris.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay most of the tab, and the state has agreed to cover any remaining costs not reimbursed by FEMA, state officials announced.

“It’s amazingly great news for Jackson County,” said Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer.

Jackson County Commissioners sent letters asking that all home and business properties be covered by a free debris cleanup program, including commercially owned mobile and manufactured home parks.

The loss of homes in those parks dealt a major blow to the Rogue Valley’s housing stock, especially affordable housing.

“We’re ecstatic they said they will cover all commercial properties,” Dyer said.

FEMA generally expects businesses to carry enough insurance to rebuild after a disaster.

Some businesses and homeowners have already begun clearing away fire debris, especially if they had insurance policies that fully covered the losses. But many lack insurance or were under-insured.

Home and business owners who opt into the government-funded cleanup program will pay no upfront costs for any cleanup work. Additionally, no government agency or contractor will seek payment from any insurance policy unless it is specifically designated for debris removal or left over after the home or business is completely rebuilt, state officials said.

The Oregon Department of Transportation, which has experience with major infrastructure projects, will take the lead on the debris cleanup program.

“Our mission is to safely clear the ash and debris as quickly as possible, and leave Oregonians with a clean site so they can rebuild,” said Kris Strickler, director of the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Oregon is currently hiring contractors to carry out general debris cleanup, which is scheduled to begin in December. That step is expected to take between six and 18 months to finish statewide, officials said.

Property owners need to sign a right-of-entry form to allow cleanup crews onto their property. Cleanup crews will remove ash and structural debris, hazard trees, concrete foundations and burned vehicles.

For a right-of-entry form, visit jacksoncounty.org/roe. For more information, visit wildfire.oregon.gov/cleanup or call the wildfire debris cleanup hotline at 503-934-1700.

The free cleanup program is available in Jackson, Clackamas, Douglas, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Linn and Marion counties.

September’s wildfires were the largest and most expensive disaster in Oregon history. The fires killed nine people, destroyed more than 5,000 homes and businesses and burned over 1 million acres, state officials said.

Half of those homes were destroyed by the Almeda fire, which burned from north Ashland to the southern outskirts of Medford, with most of the destruction in Talent and Phoenix.

Statewide, officials estimate clearing up the ash and debris will cost $326 million. Removing damaged trees could cost $295 million. The estimate is preliminary and likely to change, officials said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune FEMA will pay for hazardous debris cleanup in the Almeda fire zone.