Phoenix virtual town hall gives residents answers after fire
Phoenix residents learned in a city-hosted video conference Wednesday afternoon that water is safe to drink and temporary mailboxes will be set up for residents who lost their homes.
“As of 2:15 p.m., the water advisory was lifted. The water is safe,” Public Works Director Matias Mendez said early in the two-hour session. “When they start using water they need to flush the system 10 minutes maximum.”
In response to a later question, Mendez said there was no benzine found in the water and that it was absent of any materials. Samples were taken at four different levels and nothing was detected, he added.
Conference attendees didn’t ask questions directly of the four city councilors and city officials who participated. Instead, they typed in questions that were read by Councilor Sarah Westover. The Zoom video session maxed its 100-user capacity, but city officials said they will upgrade to 1,000 participants for the next session, possibly Monday.
A preliminary estimate from the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued earlier estimated 700 homes were lost just within Phoenix city limits, associate planner Joe Slaughter said.
Multiple questions focused on when residents with homes still standing could return home, as well as cleanup efforts.
Asked when Bear Lake Mobile Estates might be opened, police Chief Derek Bowker said there is no definite answer yet.
“The (Environmental Protection Agency) has to go through there ... go through the mobile home parks. They are much more toxic that the regular stick-built homes,” said Bowker.
Ash at a burn site is contaminated and can become more of a hazard in a wind event. Anyone around a burn site should wear an N95 mask for their own protection, according to Slaughter. The city has a supply of N95 masks it will share, he said.
“I don’t want to see a bunch of neighbors on somebody’s site with shovels and brooms and dust pans. Leave it to the experts,” said Mayor Chris Luz.
Post office operations were expected to resume at 9 a.m. Thursday, said Luz. Individuals can pick up mail from their boxes, and those who lost their residences will be able to get their mail at the service windows. Later, boxes will be set up for residents without homes.
Others asked officials about the city’s communication during the fire and in the days following.
“Why has the city been so far behind the ball on communication with citizens?” asked Marisa, a resident on First Street. Luz said it was tough to deal with the number of emails and texts. He apologized if communication was not “the greatest” in the first couple days.
“It’s tough to communicate when you don’t have any electricity at your house,” said Luz, whose home survived in a neighborhood that suffered losses. He urged residents to check the city of Phoenix’s website and Facebook sites, which are updated multiple times per day.
City officials are already looking at ways to rebuild and repopulate the town.
Discussions have been held with FEMA about moving in trailers, and areas where there might be houses are being studied. In addition, the city will look at building codes and possibly change them to facilitate rebuilding efforts.
“We want the Civic Center to be a center of operations for disaster relief efforts,” said City Manager Eric Swanson. City officials have proposed use of the site to FEMA.
Local impacts and changes were revealed during the session:
- With no access off Interstate 5 and Highway 99 closed, residents must enter town from South Stage Road and use connector routes from the north or use Talent Avenue and Colver Road from the south.
- Ray’s Market has a hole burned in the roof from the fire. La Tapatia restaurant on Main Street was lost in the flames.
- Search-and-rescue crews and utility crews are still out on the streets. Phoenix police Lt. Jeff Price asked that people not remove vehicle barriers to closed-off areas. Earlier in the day, crews had discovered a site with hazardous materials that was closed off.
A recording of the session will be available on the city website at phoenixoregon.gov. Additional questions that were not addressed during the live session will be answered there as well.
Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at firstname.lastname@example.org.