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50 still missing, but police most concerned with 8-9 cases

Fifty or so people were still missing Friday after the Almeda fire destroyed much of Phoenix and Talent, but police said they are most concerned with eight or nine cases.

They are people who are not only missing, but whose houses were destroyed in the fires, said Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau.

“We have a lot of people who have been reported as missing, but their house is intact,” Budreau said. “We have about eight or nine people that we are actively looking for, that we are considering a priority because of the state of their residence and the fact that nobody’s heard from them.”

The search is active for all reported missing whose whereabouts remain unknown following the fire. Police involved in the search continue to whittle the list down, Budreau said, but the flow of new reports hasn’t stopped.

“We are getting some additions pretty consistently,” Budreau said. “So it seems like as we tick some off, more are added, so it’s kind of maintaining that 50. We’re gaining about as fast as we’re crossing people off.”

At the peak, about 185 people were reported missing, police said. Tracking that many people has been a difficult task, Budreau said. The Almeda fire, which started Tuesday in Ashland, leveled at least 600 homes and 100 businesses, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates, forcing thousands of evacuations across much of southern Jackson County.

On Friday afternoon, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department had downgraded some areas from Level 3 “Go” evacuation, allowing residents in areas generally west and east of Phoenix and Talent city limits to return home. This included residents of Carpenter Hill, Dark Hollow, Pioneer and Coleman Creek roads, portions of Phoenix on the west side of the railroad tracks, areas east of Interstate 5, including Suncrest, Payne and Fern Valley Road, and portions of Talent west of Talent Avenue, according to a Jackson County news release.

Jackson County has an online map for up-to-date information on wildfire evacuations, and it includes a feature where residents can submit a missing person report or check in after an evacuation. The map can be accessed at https://jcgis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=3caa39804db54631a61007180d5ef415. Links to both forms are at the top left.

“We’ll take that information, and we’ll use it to actively try and determine if the person is actually in shelter. Are they safe? Or do we need to check the last known location that was reported for that person?” said Jackson County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Mike Moran.

The other form is for those who want to let others know they’re OK.

“That way it makes it easier for us to do the checking, in part,” Moran said.

Reach Mail Tribune web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com.

Displaced people rummage through donations Thursday at the south Walmart parking lot. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune