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Guns found in the ashes go to law enforcement

The ruins of Phoenix and Talent are being cleared of dangerous waste like ammunition and asbestos. Where there’s ammo, there are firearms. There are 303 million guns in the U.S. With a population in the towns of about 11,000, there are probably 10,000 weapons in the ashes, exposed to a search with a metal detector. A good gunsmith could clean a weapon, re-blueing a rifle and putting on a new stock. Two casualties might yield one good one. Is there a control to keep those firearms from being rescued, restored and sold off unregistered?

— “Scoop”

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency workers and contractors are cleaning up the hazardous debris left over by the Almeda fire, including ammunition, asbestos that they can remove and household chemicals.

They have experts on their teams who can determine whether a gun has survived in working order, said EPA Incident Commander Randy Nattis.

Those recovered guns are turned over to law enforcement.

“If a gun is destroyed, then it just stays on site like any other piece of metal. If it’s even close to fire-able, we call the sheriff,” Nattis said.

Phase one hazardous waste cleanup is being followed by phase two, when the bulk of the material, such as rubble, metal, manufactured home frames, ash and other debris will be trucked away.

Mike Moran, public information officer for the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, said the sheriff’s office will pick up guns on land under county jurisdiction. Phoenix and Talent police would handle guns in their jurisdictions, he said.

“We’ll go, and if it appears to be functional, we’ll take it. We treat it like any other found weapon, and we see if we can figure out who owns it,” Moran said.

Clues like a gun’s manufacturer and serial number can help pinpoint an owner, he said.

The sheriff’s office checks to make sure an owner can legally possess a firearm.

“If there are no problems, we reunite them with it,” Moran said.

He said he doubts people with the experience to make guns would try to restore guns from the fire and sell them illegally. People with that skill set usually are licensed and are very familiar with federal firearms regulations.

“I don’t think they would put that license at risk to do anything illegal with a weapon. They take their license very seriously,” he said.

Temperatures from the Almeda fire were hot enough in many places to melt metal, which has now cooled and hardened into little pools and rivulets visible in the fire zone.

Like the houses in the burn zones, most guns appear to have either survived relatively intact or been destroyed, Nattis said.

Even after hazardous materials teams pick through the debris, he said, the burned sites are not safe for the public. People should avoid sifting around in the debris and ashes, which can contain asbestos particles.

They could also fall through damaged floors into basements, step on nails or hurt themselves in other ways, Nattis said.

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