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Almeda fire rebuild has begun

Amid the rubble of the Almeda fire, new homes are popping up thanks to the can-do attitude of residents such as Ron Croy and his family.

“I didn’t want to wait for FEMA,” he said. “I just did it myself.”

The 70-year-old Phoenix resident plunked down $54,000 to get the construction started on his home, enlisting family members to help with the cleanup, which cost $9,000. He said his insurance company will be reimbursing him.

Croy quickly points out that he got all necessary permits and decided to dig into his own pocket so he didn’t have to wait to rebuild.

Many of the properties surrounding Croy’s new house just off Highway 99 have still not been cleared of debris four months after the Sept. 8 Almeda fire that destroyed close to 3,000 residences.

Amid the still visible devastation from Ashland to Medford, houses under construction are visible here and there along Highway 99, even as crews mobilize for a massive cleanup effort spearheaded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency over the next few months.

By the time the cleanup effort is well underway, Croy hopes to move into his energy-efficient, three-bedroom house with a larger garage.

Croy has been living at his son and daughter-in-law’s house in the same neighborhood.

No stranger to tragedy, Croy had a bad car accident several years ago that destroyed his 1972 International truck and left him somewhat disabled. His wife, Cheryl, died last January.

“I lost other cars in the fire,” he said. “I’m starting over.”

He’d kept the International for a parts vehicle, but it was also destroyed in the fire, along with tools and equipment, though he had stored some of his tools elsewhere.

Dean-a Croy, his daughter-in-law, has welcomed family members displaced by the fire, who are staying with her as they rebuild.

“In our family, we lost five houses and two businesses,” she said. “My sister is rebuilding her house across the street. My parents are in the motor home in the driveway.”

Her 17-year-old son, Huntyr Croy, gladly gave up his bedroom so his grandfather, Ron Croy, has a comfortable place to stay.

Huntyr, who goes to Phoenix High, works for C3 Enterprises in Phoenix, a company that has been cleaning up fire-damaged properties.

Dean-a’s kitchen window overlooks an entire subdivision of rubble, but she can see new houses under construction, including her sister’s across the street and her father-in-law’s about a block away.

She said three of the houses owned by her extended family are being rebuilt in Phoenix, and a fourth is about to get underway.

Dean-a said all her family members have the same can-do attitude and are pitching in to help each other and get their properties cleared.

Kory Shrader, owner of Shrader Homes, is working fast to rebuild new houses for the Croy family and others.

“I think they’re happy with the progress,” he said.

The roof was installed on Ron Croy’s house last week, and Shrader estimates it should be completed in a few months.

Shrader said it took about two and a half months to get the permits to rebuild, and he and other contractors are working without electricity, requiring them to use generators.

He said he expects the electricity to be restored in this neighborhood by the time Croy’s house is completed.

Shrader said he is currently rebuilding four houses in Croy’s neighborhood.

The new houses are going to be better than the ones they replaced. Shrader said they will be Energy Trust certified, and Croy said he might install solar panels on the roof to help cut his electricity bill.

After the Almeda fire ripped through the subdivision just north of downtown Phoenix, not much was left of Croy’s house except a flagpole and the American flag that somehow survived heat so intense that it melted aluminum manifolds in his garage.

He likes to show a photo of the melted metal that pooled up like water before it hardened. “They told me it got to over 6,000 degrees,” he said.

Since Croy lost many of his vehicles, he added a bigger garage onto his new house so he could get to work finding and restoring vintage trucks and cars. He hopes to find another International truck.

While the Croy family has made headway, other residents don’t have the resources to tackle the cleanup and rebuilding effort.

In Phoenix, the city has issued 11 permits and is reviewing 16 permit applications.

Eric Swanson, Phoenix city manager, said Jackson County is ahead of other areas that have been stricken by disasters.

He said FEMA has predicted it could take up to 18 months to clear the debris.

“I’m anticipating that it will be a lot shorter than that,” Swanson said.

The big concern right now is to make sure those displaced by the fire have a place to live.

“We don’t want them to fall through the cracks,” Swanson said.

He said there has been a lot of effort by Jackson County, FEMA and other officials to make sure there is enough temporary housing.

In Talent, 17 houses are under construction, 20 permits are under review and a 54-unit multi-family project is under construction.

Jamie McLeod-Skinner, Talent interim city manager, said the city is undergoing discussions with FEMA about replacing the homes lost in two mobile home parks.

One of the issues is that the FEMA mobile homes are larger than the ones destroyed in the fire, so not as many can fit in the mobile home parks.

Other issues include discussions about better access to some of the mobile home parks in case of emergencies. Some parks have only one way in or out.

McLeod-Skinner said many of the displaced residents need FEMA’s assistance to help restore what they lost.

“Some folks just don’t have the resources to go ahead and do it,” she said. “We want to help those people rebound.”

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.

Ron Croy checks out the{ } progress of his new home on Brandon Drive in Phoenix Thursday. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune