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Central Point residents overwhelmed but grateful after brush with fire

The stretch of the Bear Creek Greenway flanking Beebe Farms in Central Point is now an exposed patchwork of fire-blackened ground and scorched trees whose leaves have turned brown and brittle. Plumes of gray smoke drifted Wednesday from still-smoldering spots on the land bordering the creek.

The only vibrant color to be found was in the blushing skins of remarkably unharmed peaches, saved by routine irrigation, and the orange clothes worn by fire crews keeping an eye on the area.

This part of Beebe Farms burned early in what blew into a 97-acre fire in Central Point, causing families and businesses within a 2-mile radius to evacuate at 5 p.m. Tuesday. No people or pets were injured in the blaze that destroyed five outbuildings and damaged three residences.

Robert Horton, chief of Jackson County Fire District 3, said the crews would not immediately extinguish every smoldering spot; sometimes, they let the fuel burn itself up under supervision.

Cooperation between multiple fire and law enforcement agencies as well as the Medford airport was critical in stopping the fire, Horton said.

“It’s paramount for agencies to come together to work together regardless of the patch, regardless of the uniform,” he said.

Central Point police were supported by Jackson County sheriff’s deputies in diverting traffic, and Fire District 3 was supported by crews from Medford Fire-Rescue and the Oregon Department of Forestry, among other agencies.

First responders are garnering plenty of thanks from Central Point residents, including Debbie Saxbury, who has lived there all her life.

Saxbury said being surrounded by flames on both sides while attempting to evacuate was overwhelming, and she was still shaken up the following day. Even so, she said, gratitude outweighed the lingering fear.

“Our town is just so grateful,” she said. “When you consider 97 acres were lost in a downtown area, and you consider it’s all acres and not lives ”

It’s a sense shared by even those who were closest to losing everything they had. Around 10 a.m. Wednesday, Anthony Cobian returned with his family to their rented home on Hamrick Road. For hours the evening before, they didn’t know whether they would have a home to return to.

When his co-workers at Red Robin first told him that a fire was burning near his neighborhood, Cobian said, his first priority was getting in touch with his wife, who was home with their infant daughter. He had their only car.

Cobian tried to race back on Biddle Road, but traffic quickly put him and other drivers at a standstill. He eventually reached his wife by phone, which he said was “a sigh of relief.”

“Everything’s replaceable,” he said. “Family’s not.”

His neighbors across the street, he said, hosed down their single-story house from top to bottom, which he thinks spared it from the flames.

“I’m definitely going to buy them a case of beer,” Cobian said.

Next door, Nicholas Rogers also hosed down his rental before evacuating with his girlfriend, Jazmin Quinonez Ortega, which he thinks is why their house survived unharmed.

Not so the garage behind them, where the couple’s bike, lawnmower and other tools were stored. That structure burned to the ground.

Quinonez Ortega said they felt sad but echoed Cobian’s assessment.

“At least it was a place instead of a human,” she said. “Because a human, you can’t replace.”

Residents who either have landlines or are signed up for emergency text alerts were notified about the evacuation late Tuesday afternoon, but law enforcement also went door-to-door to help ensure everyone left affected areas.

Sgt. Julie Denney, spokeswoman for the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, said the fire “brings to mind ... the importance of citizen alerts.”

People sometimes consider the alerts necessary only if they live in rural places, she said.

Tuesday’s fire demonstrated that “when that happens in a more urban environment, we have a whole lot of people we need to notify quicker.”

Some people left comments on Saxbury’s community Facebook page, “Central Point Oregon-What’s Happening Around Town,” saying they had not received alerts despite being signed up. The Mail Tribune was unable to reach Jackson County Emergency Management for comment Wednesday.

When evacuations are declared, alerts go out via phone call to all landlines in affected areas; those who use only cellphones, however, need to voluntarily sign up on the county website or text their ZIP code to 888-777.

Saxbury said because damage to homes and property was perhaps smaller than it might have been, she had not heard of any organized recovery efforts. Still, she said, “you know how the community is going to come together.”

“Everybody really truly does care (for) and check on their neighbors,” she said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribunePaul Curtis talks about the fire movement at Beebe Farms looking west towards Bear Creek in Central Point.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneBurned apples hang from a tree at Beebe Farms in Central Point Wednesday morning.