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Commemorative event set for Almeda fire

FILE - In this photo taken by a drone, homes leveled by the Almeda Fire line the Bear Lake Estates in Phoenix, Ore., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

A two-day event to commemorate the Almeda fire is planned for south valley communities Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 11 and 12. A walk on the Bear Creek Greenway will take place Sept. 11, and Talent will host events downtown Sept. 12.

A grassroots team of four women created the event concept, said Talent City Councilor Ana Byers, who detailed the project when the council met July 21. By a unanimous vote, the council shifted $10,000 that was to fund the annual Harvest Festival to support the event.

“They have put real care into envisioning a trauma-informed event that weaves together the communities of Ashland, Talent, Phoenix and south Medford, including all the people who are living in the unincorporated areas in between these towns,” said Byers.

The four organizers are Teresa Cisneros, Jocksana Corona, Niria Garcia and Erica Ledesma.

On Sept. 8, 2020, the Almeda fire started in north Ashland and raced up the Bear Creek Greenway into south Medford, destroying an estimated 2,500 residences and 178 businesses while burning through Talent, Phoenix and unincorporated parts of Jackson County.

“It arose from talking with each other, talking with community members. A lot of people have felt left out during the rebuilding process, so this could be a way for people to come together,” said Ledesma. “We all kind of dreamed about what this could look like.”

Saturday will include a procession down the Greenway from El Tapatio restaurant in north Ashland to the La Clinica health center in south Medford. Afterward an event with live music, food trucks and ways to reconnect with neighbors is planned in Phoenix’s Blue Heron Park.

“There will be medics and marshals to make sure the community is safe if they are walking,” said Ledesma. Mental health counselors will be present to offer support. Organizers hope to plant some native vegetation during the walk to help recognize the area as indigenous land.

Sunday activities will move to the downtown area in Talent. Events will include sharing of stories and experiences, food, live music and art activities for the whole family. Massage therapists may be present along with other health care providers. Murals for Talent’s Gateway transitional housing project may be displayed.

“We are still trying to figure out how to have healing circles,” said Ledesma. They would offer the chance to share stories and talk about what people are experiencing. Ways to answer people’s questions about the rebuilding process will also be included.

Municipalities will be asked to contribute what they can to support the commemoration. Ashland City Councilor Paula Hyatt and Phoenix City Councilor Al Muelhoefer attended a session where the event plans were presented.

“We will see what the council decides to do in terms of how we will be involved, but I know we want to,” said Ashland Mayor Julie Akin. “It’s an important event to commemorate. It’s vital for us to look at where we were, where we have been and where we are going and where we will keep going.”

The Ashland council has already discussed the event once and indicated it wanted to be involved, said Akin. The topic will be discussed at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Muelhoefer said he had planned to raise the issue at the July 19 council session, but it was canceled. The council will talk about it when it meets Monday.

Organizers are looking for businesses and organizations to sponsor specific activities rather than giving monetary donations, said Ledesma.

Talent assistance could include opening the Community Center and the Town Hall for activities. There would also be help with shutting down city streets, securing permits and paying for city staff time. Talent might use its GIS system to help with mapping of the parade route for parking and determining distances on the trail, interim City Manager Jon Legarza said.

Talent Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood said that no planning had been done for the Harvest Festival this year. The annual event usually takes place in early October, but was not held last year due to the pandemic. It takes a whole year to plan and a standing committee, said Ayers-Flood.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.