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Almeda fire victims named, FEMA relief site announced

Jackson County released the names Wednesday of two of the three people who died in the Almeda fire, announced the opening of the Multi-Agency Resource Center to help fire victims, and delivered a stark warning to those anxious to search through the remains of their homes during a press conference at Central Medford High School.

Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler said Donald Schmidt, 55, and Violet Lobdell, 92, each died Sept. 8, in the Almeda fire, and added that the identity of a third victim has not been verified. Schmidt and Lobdell both lived at the Bear Lake Estates at 300 Luman Road in Phoenix. The 55-and-over mobile home park, which abutted Interstate 5 on the west side, was destroyed by the fire.

The investigation into the fire’s origin is ongoing and “very active,” Sickler added.

“We’re working hard to figure out how that started,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jackson County Emergency Operations Center Director John Vial announced that the Multi-Agency Resource Center will open Thursday at Central Medford High School, 815 S. Oakdale Ave., and will be staffed by representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

There, FEMA, insurance agencies, the Red Cross, city representatives and other agencies will be on hand from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week to “assist those that are impacted by this fire, get (them) back on their feet and provide a path for them to restore and get back to somewhat of a normal lifestyle,” Vial said.

Similarly staffed resource centers, Vial added, will also open at the Phoenix Civic Center, Talent Elementary School and the River House in Shady Cove — although the hours of operation of those sites will be determined later by need.

Spanish-speaking FEMA representatives will be at each site.

FEMA sent a dozen Disaster Survivor Assistance agents to Jackson County, said Vial — more than the county requested. And more help is on the way, he said.

“In addition,” Vial said, “we are expecting to get seven to eight what’s called ‘Individual Assistance Representatives’ showing up next week. The Individual Assistance (Representatives) are those that help more complex cases. If somebody can’t (produce) proof of ownership of their property, all their records are destroyed and they’re just a little harder to figure out, these individual assessment folks sit down with them and walk them through this process when it’s a fairly complex one.”

Those who visit the MARC or one of the other sites are encouraged to bring home address identification, their social security number and insurance information. But if they don’t have any of that, Vial said, go anyway.

“Show up,” he said. “FEMA is used to working in situations where people have lost everything. But if you do have it, it does make the process a little easier.”

Fire victims also should visit disasterassistance.gov, if possible, to get started on the process.

Vial also announced the creation of an interactive mapping tool designed by the county’s information technology department that will allow fire victims to locate their property on a map, view a photo of its current state, and see whether it’s been classified as minor damage, major damage, destroyed or unaffected.

The tool will be available “hopefully” later in the week, Vial said.

Both Sickler and Vile also addressed the issue of victims sifting through the remains of their homes and possibly exposing themselves to hazardous material.

Be careful, Vial said, because it can be very dangerous.

“Many of the structures that were burned on this are older structures that were built using materials that we no longer use that contain asbestos and other hazardous materials,” he said. “Those materials are still present on the site. So if citizens want to access their site, we are not preventing that, but we would ask you to use caution when you enter it. Wear gloves, wear a mask and wear closed-tied shoes. And we’d also recommend this is not an area for children. These sites contain hazards, and we’ve seen a few cases where children are out there and we would recommend that you don’t to do that. There’s simply too high of a risk to have children out there.”

Reporter Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Rob Pinkham reflects on the Harley Davidson motorcycle that he lost along with his home in the Almeda Fire in Phoenix.