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Workers get help replacing gear lost in fires

When the Almeda fire destroyed Juan Madera’s home in Phoenix, it also burned up the equipment he needs to work in landscape maintenance and construction.

All of his tools and equipment are gone, including a lawnmower he bought last fall and a second he bought this spring.

“I lost everything,” Madera said.

But Monday he was able to buy new equipment at Dazey’s Hubbard’s hardware store in Medford to replace some of what he lost.

Accompanied by his family, Madera left the store with a leaf blower, a gas can and a helmet with ear protection to shield his hearing.

After the Almeda fire destroyed thousands of homes in Talent and Phoenix, United Rotary Clubs of Southern Oregon jumped into action.

Rotary member Tim Mobley, a former educator for the Phoenix-Talent School District, called the district to see what families need. The district estimates 40% of its students lost their homes.

Donations of clothing and food have poured in, so what many families need right now are tools and equipment to get back to work, Mobley learned from the district.

House cleaners, construction workers, landscape workers, auto mechanics, forestry workers and more have lost the supplies and equipment they need on the job.

Mobley wrote up a grant application for disaster help and sent it to Rotary International.

“I submitted it, and four hours later, we got $25,000,” he said.

With that money, local Rotary clubs were able to help about 30 men and women buy up to $800 of gear at local stores, including Hubbard’s, Crater Chain Saw and local vacuum dealers. They prioritized people who had no insurance or were underinsured.

But the clubs know the need is far greater.

“I have twice as many applicants as I have money,” Mobley said.

United Rotary Clubs of Southern Oregon is now seeking donations from the community to raise another $25,000 and match the donation from Rotary International. To learn more and make a donation to help local workers and small business owners, see rotaryrebuildssouthernoregon.com.

Rotary members want to help at least 30 more people buy new equipment.

“It’s critically important to us. If you can work, you can support yourself and your family. You can reclaim your dignity,” said Cindi O’Neil, district governor for Rotary International District 5110, which covers Southern and Central Oregon and Northern California.

O’Neil said most people need to prove they have a source of income to rent a place to live. That makes having a job even more important for the thousands of newly homeless in Jackson County.

“Without a job, you’re stopped,” she said.

With damage assessments ongoing, officials estimate the Almeda fire destroyed more than 2,800 houses, manufactured and mobile homes, apartment buildings, businesses and other structures. The fire destroyed a major portion of the housing that was affordable for workers, families, senior citizens and the disabled from north Ashland, through Talent and Phoenix and into south Medford.

East of Shady Cove, the South Obenchain fire has destroyed at least 153 structures, ranging from barns to houses.

Madera and his family are living in a travel trailer at the Jackson County Expo in Central Point, which is serving as a shelter for those who lost their homes.

He still needs construction gear like power saws, a compressor, a nail gun, staple guns and hammers. But he’s grateful to Rotary for getting him started on replacing his landscape maintenance equipment.

“Thank you for the help,” Madera said.

Ester Reyes lost her Phoenix home to the Almeda fire. She was able to get out with her son and her dog, but lost the supplies she had bought for her housekeeping job.

They are living with her sister in Ashland. Her son lost his school-issued laptop in the blaze. Many school districts had recently distributed laptops to students who have to go to school online this fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reyes was with the Rotary members Monday to get started replacing her housekeeping gear, including a vacuum cleaner.

Although it’s crowded staying with her sister, she said she feels lucky to have a roof over her head.

Reyes said the Rotary members are doing a very good job in helping people replace work equipment, and she hopes people will donate to aid more workers.

“They really need the help to start again,” she said.

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

Rotary member Tom Mustard, right, helps Marco Rodriguez shop for tools Monday at Dazey’s Hubbard’s in Medford. Rodriguez lost his Phoenix home in the Almeda fire. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune
Lawn mowers and other equipment burned along with homes in the Almeda fire. Vickie Aldous/Mail Tribune