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Jackson County Expo a hub for wildfire evacuees

Home to the county fair and concerts in normal years, the Jackson County Expo has become a temporary home for some and a resource hub for thousands displaced by wildfires.

The Expo is at 1 Peninger Road in Central Point, near I-5 Exit 33.

Phoenix resident Sarah Wold has been staying at the Rogue Regency Inn in Medford after the Almeda fire started in Ashland Sept. 8 and tore through Talent and Phoenix. She lost all of her possessions, including photos of her kids, her birth certificate and tax records.

“How do you replace any of that?” she asked, while waiting in a line at The Expo to report as an evacuee. Later she looked through donated items to help get through the coming days.

Officials and volunteers are working to track survivors who evacuated and link them with services to meet their immediate needs and start rebuilding their lives.

Supplies and services at The Expo include shelter, water, drinks, 24-hour crisis mental health care, emotional support, computer access, help making insurance claims, books, games, news updates, fire maps, evacuation information, assistance for veterans, help for homeless youth, senior citizen services, aid to report property damage in order to get property tax reductions, and help to get health insurance through the Oregon Health Plan.

The American Red Cross is providing a first-aid station with nursing services, and will take over responsibility for overnight sheltering Wednesday night.

The Expo has room to set up tents, park recreational vehicles and sleep in cars. Supplies of cots are plentiful.

Evacuees can receive three meals per day thanks to the Salvation Army and local restaurants. Snacks have also been donated by the community.

People can sign up for food and housing assistance from the Oregon Department of Human Services. Other groups are offering housing help as well.

The Jackson County Emergency Operations Center at The Expo secured shower and laundry trailers for onsite use.

Child care services are being provided by the Phoenix-Talent School District, while adults are getting help from service providers.

Outreach and support groups for the Latino community, including translators, are available to welcome and help displaced people. Thousands of Jackson County residents have lost their homes in the Almeda fire.

To connect communities with the Expo, the Rogue Valley Transportation District is running a shuttle service using its Valley Lift vans with the RVTD logo on the side. The shuttles run every 30 minutes from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

A shuttle runs between The Expo and Albertsons and Goodwill on Freeman Road in Central Point. A Route 40 RVTD bus serves that shuttle stop. People riding the bus should get off at the stop on Freeman Road and walk to the Goodwill and wait in front for the shuttle.

Another shuttle run connects The Expo and Walmart and Goodwill stores in south Medford. That Walmart store is served by the 1X RVTD bus, and the Goodwill store is served by the Route 24 RVTD bus. Anyone who needs a shuttle to The Expo should wait in front of either store.

The Phoenix-Talent School District will be offering shuttling services with school transportation from Home Depot in Phoenix and White Mountain Middle School in White City based on demand. Many displaced families from the district are staying with friends and relatives in White City.

Those in need of individual shuttling can contact the District Care line at 541-821-7135 for English speakers, or 541-821-7697 for Spanish speakers.

Donations can be brought to Gate 2 at The Expo. That is also the gate that should be used by evacuees to enter for services.

Donations have flooded in, including walkers, snacks, canned food, Ziploc bags, clothing, toilet paper, children’s books and toys, baby diapers, adult incontinence supplies, toothpaste, toothbrushes, toilet paper and tissue.

Blankets and sleeping bags were nearly gone, then more flowed in as a stream of vehicles dropped off new donations.

Mark Pedersen said he wished he could see time-lapse photos of the supplies building up, depleting and then building up again. As chair of Rogue Valley Community Organizations Active in Disaster, or RVCOAG, he’s helping coordinate the flow of supplies and volunteers.

“It’s so wonderful to see the response from the community. It’s not just one day. It’s every single day — pandemic or no pandemic, fire or no fire. It’s been outstanding,” Pedersen said.

The Expo does have donated clothes, but Pedersen said people who want to give clothes should instead take them to Goodwill locations around the valley. Goodwill is better equipped to handle clothing donations.

The Expo does need sweatshirts and coats for evacuees, he said.

After a string of 100-degree days combined with wind storms to set the stage for devastating fires, heavy smoke has blotted out the sun and led to cooler weather.

Earlier this week, more than 700 people had already signed up to volunteer through RVCOAG.

Visit roguevalley.recovers.org to request help, offer supplies or sign up to volunteer.

RVCOAG can mobilize squads of volunteers on short notice to fill different needs, Pedersen said.

“If I need 21 people, it’s filled in 30 minutes,” he said.

Locals and people from around the country are helping side by side. The American Red Cross has sent helpers from as far away as Florida.

Pedersen said two dozen young people on missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are helping. They come from a wide geographic area and some bring valuable bilingual skills.

A woman working to send volunteers out on tasks at the Expo said some volunteers may not be needed immediately. But the scale of the devastation means volunteers will be needed for the long term, so people should still sign up.

With thousands of homes lost, the rebuilding process will take several years.

The Phoenix-Talent School District estimates half its students’ families have lost their homes. The district has set up a relief fund to help families. Checks made out to Jackson County School District No. 4 can be sent to Phoenix Talent Fire Relief Fund, P.O. Box 937, Medford, OR 97501.

Jonatan Reyes, 16, is a Phoenix High School junior this year. The school had planned online classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but those are on hold for now.

Reyes and his brother, a sophomore, and his mom were burned out by the Almeda fire. They visited The Expo earlier this week.

Reyes was at work in Medford when he heard Sept. 8 that the Almeda fire was spreading out of Ashland and his family might need to evacuate. With their mother at work in Grants Pass, the brothers put belongings in their car at their Phoenix home, then fled as ashes fell from the sky and police warned everyone to get out immediately.

“Sadly, I couldn’t rescue my dogs,” Reyes said.

Coleman Creek Estates in Phoenix, where his family lived, is decimated. It was one in a long list of mobile and manufactured home parks and apartment complexes leveled by the fire, along with nursing homes and neighborhoods of single-family houses.

“Every building in there was burned. Not a single one survived,” Reyes said of the mobile home park.

He and his mom and brother are staying with relatives in White City for now. Reyes offered advice for the devastated community.

“Stay united. Help each other out. Don’t give up,” he said.

Janell Long was one of the lucky few whose homes survived in the Medford Estates manufactured home park. Most of the homes were wiped out. Her home sustained fire damage.

Long was also visiting The Expo this week.

She and her husband are living with a friend in Gold Hill. Although they were at work when the fire broke out, they were able to salvage some belongings and got out with both cars and their pets.

They still have their dog with them, but they gave their lizard to an experienced lizard owner and surrendered their cat to Jackson County Animal Services to be cared for in a foster home.

Long first thought her home had been destroyed by the fire.

“I saw a picture on Facebook of a fireball that said it was Medford Mobile Estates,” she said. “We said, ‘Our house is gone.’”

Long believes her home survived because the fire didn’t jump a nearby pond as it incinerated other homes.

“They’re so close together and they’re like tinder. If one house caught fire, it was jumping to the next,” she said.

Information in Spanish/Información in español

Hay ayuda disponible en el Jackson County Expo, 1 Peninger Road, Central Point, cerca de Interstate 5 Exito 33: Comida, agua, ayuda con seguro de salud, duchas, baños, lavanderia, ayuda para las personas que perdieron sus casas por el incendio, intérpretes, cuidado de la salud mental, ayuda para veteranos, acceso a las computadoras, libros y juegos, noticias sobre incendios y evacuaciones, mapas de fuegos, pañales, cepillos de dientes y pasta de dientes, papel higiénico, transporte, espacio para carpas, automóviles y vehículos recreativos para las personas que perdieron sus casas y más.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Donations of supplies are pouring into Jackson County Expo to help evacuees. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune
The Almeda fire leveled Coleman Creek Estates and other manufactured and mobile home parks in Phoenix and Talent. Scott Stoddard/Associated Press