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Major part of fire debris cleanup about to begin

I keep wondering why so many of the burned-out properties in Phoenix and Talent have not yet started cleaning up. FEMA was working to get the toxic cleanup done, I think, but landowner permission was required for each property. Perhaps some landowners chose not to give permission. I wonder why, and what happens now? Clearly, rebuilding is a priority for the folks who want to return to living in these towns. And certainly the towns themselves want to get started on reconfiguring themselves. Can you clarify why clean up is so random and what’s the hold-up?

— Zuna, Ashland

In mid-October, the Environmental Protection Agency started picking through the burned debris left by the Almeda fire and removing hazardous waste.

Although that was a critical part of the overall cleanup effort, it represented just a small part of the mammoth amount of debris. The hazardous waste cleanup is finished, setting the stage for the much larger phase two “ash and trash” cleanup.

The Oregon Department of Transportation is managing that second phase. Contractors and subcontractors will carry out the work, with monitors keeping an eye out to make sure it’s done correctly.

Work will start in Jackson County Monday, Jan. 4. Crews could have started a few weeks ago, but they would have had to halt work for the holidays and then start up again, so the decision was made to begin in January.

Local officials have created a priority list for where the general debris cleanup should start. Large sites with hundreds of home sites top the priority list.

In the worst-case scenario, cleaning up the fire debris everywhere could take 18 months, although officials expect it will take less than that.

A majority of property owners have signed up for the government-funded cleanup, although about 177 have opted out and about 100 haven’t filled out right-of-entry forms to allow workers onto their land.

Visit jacksoncounty.org/roe to access a form and join the general debris cleanup.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and state of Oregon are covering the hazardous waste and general debris cleanup costs.

People can attempt to clean up their properties themselves, but they have to follow local, state and federal laws about the cleanup and disposal of debris.

Some property owners are cleaning up their land independently, with some already finished and in the rebuilding process.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.