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Count of homes lost to Almeda fire will rise much higher

The official preliminary estimate of 600 homes lost in the Almeda fire is a significant undercount that doesn’t include apartment buildings or nursing homes.

But getting a fuller, more accurate count will take a major effort at a time when firefighters and fire agencies are still battling wildfires in Jackson County and across the state, said Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office spokesman Rich Tyler.

The fact that the Almeda fire tore through the neighborhoods and business districts of Talent and Phoenix creates major challenges. Most wildfires destroy scattered homes — not whole subdivisions and apartment buildings.

“The hardest part is there is such a large area of devastation and limited resources across the state,” Tyler said.

Fire agencies must first concentrate on saving lives and property before they can turn to detailed accountings of lost homes and businesses, he said.

Many local residents have been questioning the early estimate of 600 homes lost, saying they believe that number is a significant undercount.

Tyler said the number is a rough drive-by count of single family houses, plus manufactured and mobile homes.

But buildings that house multiple living units haven’t been included in the total yet. Those include nursing homes and apartment complexes, he said.

Even the count of homes in the single family home category will require much more work to verify, Tyler said.

Investigators need to take photos of foundations or whatever is left of homes, mobile homes and manufactured homes and cross-check that on-the-ground information against county building permit records, geographic information system data and other records, he said.

Officials in Phoenix estimate the fire burned 1,000 residences — a mix of mobile and manufactured homes, apartments and homes. In Talent, city leaders estimate as many as 600 homes were lost, the Oregonian reported this week.

The preliminary count of lost businesses is 100 commercial buildings, Tyler said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

The Almeda fire leveled neighborhoods in Phoenix and Talent. Jamie Lusch/Mail Tribune