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Council rejects ‘Firestorm’ statue plan

Some critics have called the “Firestorm” statue “morbid” or “creepy.” Others said it would inflict PTSD on Almeda fire survivor.

A controversial “Firestorm” sculpture won’t be coming to downtown Medford anytime soon.

Medford City Council on Thursday night withdrew $33,750 in financial support for the $75,000 project after community members took offense at the proposed 20-foot statue, which showed four stylized figures illuminated by lighting that resembled flames.

The artist, Robert Barnum, said his intention was to honor the fire victims and to make a bold statement about the impact the Almeda fire had on the community.

A change.org petition had gathered more than 1,700 signatures Thursday demanding the statue not be erected at the corner of Fifth Street and Riverside Avenue.

The council approved the funding Jan. 6, but over the past week community members voiced their concern about the look, size and location of the statue.

Some called it “morbid” or “creepy.” Others said the statue would inflict PTSD on the survivors, who are still struggling to regain their footing after the fire wiped out 2,500 residences, destroyed businesses and left a trail of destruction from Ashland to Medford. Still others thought it would be a visual distraction for motorists, who would see it driving past on Riverside or from the Interstate 5 viaduct.

A letter drafted by all the councilors and mayor stated Thursday, “Our goal with our action tonight is to support the continued healing of our friends and neighbors.”

With the financial support withdrawn, the council is asking organizers to reconsider the location and the sculpture.

“We hear the concerns of those that live in Medford as well as our Rogue Valley neighbors and respect everyone’s experience with the tragic Almeda fire,” according to the letter.

Robert Barnum’s brother Sam Barnum, who is Medford’s building safety director, had nothing to do with the selection of the artist for the project, according to city officials.

“Sam Barnum had no involvement in Medford City Council’s vote to partially support the construction of the art project selected by the Downtown Medford Association.”

However, on a brochure describing the project, which was included in the information provided to the council Jan. 6, Sam Barnum’s name was listed as a contact for the project.

According to the city, the Downtown Medford Association had selected the artist prior to making the request for money from the Council Vision Fund. Members of the association had an ongoing donation campaign to help pay for the statue.

Robert Barnum grew up in Jackson County and attended both Southern Oregon University and Oregon College of Art.

He is currently the Ferris State University resident artist and lives in Big Rapids, Michigan.

Barnum said he was moved by the tragedy of the 2020 Almeda fire to create a sculpture that was meant to stimulate a conversation about the impacts it had on Jackson County.

He had hoped to erect the statue sometime this spring.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.