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Local farm workers get housing help after Almeda fire

Hector Rocha and his dad, Marcelino Rocha, were at work at Fry Family Farm Sept. 8 when they learned Talent was being evacuated due to a growing fire in Ashland.

Hector Rocha’s mom was alone in their family home in the Talent Mobile Estates. She called and asked her son whether there was anything he wanted her to grab as she evacuated.

“I told her to grab my phone charger,” Hector Rocha said. “I thought we were going to be back home that night.”

Driven by strong winds, the Almeda fire destroyed their home, wiping out years of accumulated possessions and hard work by the Rocha family.

The father and son were among four Fry Family Farm employees who lost their homes that night.

Agricultural workers were among the hardest hit by the fire, which leveled neighborhoods and mobile home parks in Phoenix and Talent that offered affordable housing.

On Monday at the Fry Family Farm Store outside Medford, the nonprofit group Our Family Farms handed out more than $200,000 in checks to 44 agricultural workers and their families to help with housing expenses.

“They’re like angels,” Marcelino Rocha said of the many people who donated to help his family and others.

Donations to the relief fund came from local residents and businesses, as well as from people all across the nation and as far away as Australia.

“So many of our farm workers lost everything. It has been a privilege to raise funds and show up for them as they do for us each and every day,” said Anne Golden, an Our Family Farms board member.

Amber Fry, general manager of Fry Family Farm, said local farmworkers who lost their homes are tremendously important to her farm and other agriculture businesses in the Rogue Valley. Those workers may have to leave the area if they can’t find new places to live.

Even before the Almeda fire destroyed and damaged more than 2,600 houses, mobile homes and apartment buildings, Jackson County’s rental vacancy rate hovered around 1%.

Hector Rocha has a second job working for the Housing Authority of Jackson County. He was able to get temporary use of an apartment in the immediate aftermath of the fire.

Hector Rocha and his parents then joined forces and bought a home where they now live together.

After her home of 20 years in the Medford Estates mobile home park in Phoenix was destroyed, Maria Camacho was soon back at work for Naumes, an agriculture company best known for its pear business.

She and her husband, Fidel Camacho, who is retired, are staying with their adult daughter in Medford. They are still hunting for a place of their own.

All the affordable houses in their price range need major work, so now they’re looking for a mobile home. When they find one, there’s usually someone already in line waiting for it, Fidel Camacho said.

“One of these days, we’ll find one,” he said.

The Camachos said they are grateful for everyone who has stepped forward to help.

“We made it out OK. People gave us clothes and offered us a place to live. A lot of people didn’t have a place to go. We were lucky,” Fidel Camacho said.

Jose Ramon Rivera, another Naumes worker, is staying with his wife, Maria, in a small home his co-worker is letting them use. Their home in the Coleman Creek Estates in Phoenix was destroyed by the Almeda fire.

The couple escaped with only the clothes on their backs. The day after the fire, people were already offering clothing and personal items to help evacuees.

The two said they are grateful for the financial help from the Our Family Farms fund.

“It’s not easy being the one in need,” Jose Ramon Rivera said. “We feel so humbled and so thankful. We look forward to how we can help others in the future.”

Our Family Farms will continue to accept donations for additional rounds of housing help. To donate, visit ourfamilyfarms.org.

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

Father and son Marcelino Rocha, left, and Hector Rocha, talk about losing their home in the Talent Mobile Estates during the Sept. 8 Almeda Fire. They were the receipients of a fund for agriculture workers Monday at the Fry Family Farms Store in Medford. Photo by Denise Baratta
Elise Higley, (right), of Our Family Farms Coalition, embraces Stephanie Reyes, who received a finacial donation after losing her Phoenix home in the Almeda Fire. Photo by Denise Baratta