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Gov. Brown applauds Almeda fire heroes

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown honored two Jackson County sheriff’s deputies Monday for saving two men and a dog from a burning mobile home during the Almeda fire.

“Great work,” she said to some 50 deputies, firemen and the National Guard at Jackson County Fire District No. 5 in Phoenix.

Brown was in town to survey the damage from the fires and meet with local officials, but she wanted to stop at the fire station on Highway 99 to thank emergency responders, who have spent two weeks battling the worst fire to befall the Rogue Valley, destroying an estimated 2,357 residential structures.

Deputies Justin Hall and Cody Ponder were called out for their efforts to notify residents to evacuate from Dun Ro-vin R.V. Park in Phoenix and saving the lives of two men trapped in a mobile home that was on fire.

Brown, elbow bumping each of the men in uniform, thanked them for their efforts.

“They really saved a lot of lives,” she said.

Initial reports indicate hundreds could have died from the Almeda fire, and the count so far is that three lost their lives.

Brown, who appeared somewhat weary from dealing with two weeks of unrelenting fires that burned about a million acres throughout Oregon, said, “I’m not as tired as these guys,” pointing at the first responders.

Many emergency responders have been pulling extra shifts and lots of overtime, but sheriff’s deputies got the word Monday that they would be returning to their regular schedules.

Ponder said Brown asked him how his family was doing and, “thanked us for our service and our work.”

On Sept. 8, Ponder and Hall were going door to door in Dun Ro-vin scrambling to tell people to evacuate.

“Propane tanks were blowing up, and Justin asked for cover on the radio,” Ponder said.

Hall said, “I heard this fellow yelling for help inside one of the mobile homes. We ended up busting out one of his windows and pulled the man, his brother and a dog out.”

While they were rescuing the people, the back end of the mobile home was on fire.

During the firestorm the smoke and flames were destroying large portions of the mobile home park all around the men.

“The heat was terrible,” Hall said.

In the aftermath of the fire, both men, who escaped injury, reflected on their heroism, but quickly pointed on that all the first responders showed similar heroism.

“All of us pitched in and did our part,” Hall said, noting that other deputies also went from home to home telling people to evacuate.

Ponder said, “Looking at the sheer volume of destruction, it’s amazing we got people saved.”

Ponder has previously received life-saving awards from the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association and the county. At the Albany Police Department, he saved a woman who tried to jump off a bridge.

Jackson County Sheriff Nate Sickler applauded the efforts of the department during the Sept. 8 Almeda fire.

“All of our guys saved lives,” he said. “There were a lot of people who were very heroic.”

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.

Gov. Kate Brown stops Monday at Jackson County Fire District No. 5 in Phoenix while touring damage caused by the Almeda fire.Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch
Gov. Kate Brown thanks members of the Jackson County Sherriff Office on Monday while touring damage caused by the Almeda fire in Ashland, Phoenix and Talent.Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch