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‘Firestorm’ statue will shine in Medford

Photo courtesy city of Medford Model of the “Firestorm” sculpture that will be installed in downtown Medford to honor the victims of the Almeda fire.

A 20-foot “Firestorm” sculpture that resembles artwork from the Burning Man festival in Nevada will soon be erected in downtown Medford to honor Almeda fire victims.

The $75,000 stainless steel and corten artwork will be installed at a prominent location at the corner of Fifth and Riverside.

“These things are incredibly large,” said Sam Barnum, Medford building safety director. “You’ll see it from Interstate 5.”

Four stylized, stainless steel figures of men and women stand against a structure that appears to be on fire. At night the structure will light up, mimicking flames around the steel figures.

A model of the sculpture is at the Rogue Gallery & Art Center on Bartlett Street.

The project got a boost last Thursday when Medford City Council approved $33,750 toward its funding. Over the past few months, the funding campaign has secured the dollars needed to complete the installation.

Other donations have poured in as well, including for the concrete and electrical work needed for the installation.

The Downtown Medford Association has thrown its support behind the project.

Barnum said the artist, Robert Barnum, is his brother, who has done similar sculptures around the country.

Robert Barnum, who lives in Big Rapids, Michigan, grew up in Jackson County and had developed ideas for the art project just after the Sept. 8, 2020, Almeda fire that destroyed 2,500 residences.

Robert Barnum, 70, went to Southern Oregon University and Oregon College of Art. In addition to being a sculptor, Robert is a painter who has undertaken a number of mural projects.

With the money lined up for the project, Robert Barnum said he’s ready to begin building the installation, hoping it will be erected sometime this spring.

Once the sculpture is in place, the second phase of the project will begin. The second phase will feature concrete or stone wall elements to support dedication plaques honoring those impacted by the fires.

Robert Barnum said it requires considerable labor to lift the heavy pieces to assemble the artwork.

“I look out for farm kids,” he said. “They’re the toughest kids out there.”

Robert Barnum said the devastation of the fire hit him hard.

“I thought, there had to be some sort of statement about this,” he said. “I was driven to make a strong statement.”

In 2003, Robert was awarded the Michigan Artist of the Year Award and is currently the Ferris State University resident artist. Two of his pieces have received congressional recognition.

He said he chose the materials for the art project so they would last centuries. He said lighting inside the sculpture will help illuminate it and be particularly eye-catching from the freeway.

“It will look like the fire dancing around these figures at night,” he said.

Robert said the corten steel, which is used for bridges and other structures, is designed to develop a patina of rust on the outside.

He said he wanted the memory of the fire to live on and not be forgotten in a few years.

“I look at it as a beacon for change that will last for centuries,” he said.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.