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No place like home

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The Almeda fire marked the beginning an “extremely crazy and hectic” time in Simon Turner’s life, but he found a little stability for him and his young family Friday.

Turner signed papers with FEMA at the Southern Oregon RV Park in Central Point, making him the first — but far from only — Southern Oregonian displaced in the Almeda fire who’ll live in a government-owned trailer while Southern Oregon rebuilds the thousands of homes lost in the fire.

Jackson County Emergency Operations Center Director John Vial called Turner’s signing “an exciting day for FEMA, for survivors of this fire, for Jackson County,” because “there are many more to come.”

A handful of “home units and travel trailers” have arrived at the county-owned RV park at the Jackson County Expo, and more will be coming in the weeks ahead, according to Vial and Toby Rice with FEMA. The county and FEMA inked a contract allowing for 22 trailers on the site.

As of Friday, 283 Southern Oregon families are eligible for housing assistance, according to Vial.

“That number is always changing,” Rice said. “FEMA is moving as quickly as possible.”

Turner described a wave of powerful setbacks because of the destructive Almeda fire, along with a drive to persevere.

The day of the fire, Turner had lived in his townhouse near the Phoenix-Talent border for exactly one week, and he left work in the middle of his first day as a counselor for a Medford addiction treatment center to evacuate his dogs and grab the few belongings that could fit in a bag.

He hadn’t had time to purchase renters insurance, and he remembers looking at his professional DJ equipment, a drone, and other expensive gear that was uninsured.

“I was just like, ‘I’m never gonna see this stuff again,’” Turner said.

On Friday, however, as FEMA contractors solidified a foundation and put the finishing touches on a wooden patio for his Springdale travel trailer, Turner looked back on the past two and a half months with gratitude for the family friends who helped them along.

“Everybody who’s lended a hand, a kind word, a nice gesture, it really has helped us keep a positive attitude,” Turner said at a press conference.

When FEMA told Turner of delays at the signing because of sanitation protocols and some finishing touches to make the travel trailer more suitable for long-term living, Turner rolled with the change.

“I’m not in, like, a super bad spot. ... It could be so much worse,” Turner said.

Turner described an aphorism he uses as a counselor describing how if you take 10 people and swap everyone’s problems, “you’d be glad to get yours back.”

He’s been living with family friends in Medford during the week, and he described having his own bedroom and gracious hosts; however, he acknowledged that sharing a space with anyone can be tough.

The three-hour drives to Coos Bay to see his girlfriend and his daughter, Cordi, have been another challenge.

“Distance does make the heart grow fonder,” Turner said.

Turner is a combat veteran, and he recalled how even when people were shooting at his platoon in Afghanistan he’d find reasons to crack a joke.

“My Grandpa always said, ‘you gotta laugh or you’ll cry,’” Turner said. “Bad things happen for good reasons.”

Turner has made it a priority to seek out the good in his situation — not that it’s easy or that he’d choose to go through it all again.

The latest takeaway for Turner is that as an Army veteran he qualifies for a home loan he wouldn’t have considered if it weren’t for the fire, and now plans to build or buy a home for his family.

“As great as this is, I can’t wait to get out as soon as possible,” Turner said.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

FEMA housing
Simon Turner signs papers from housing crew lead Tina Dantuma for FEMA housing at the Southern Oregon RV park in Central Point. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune