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Talent preserving story of a ‘Town In Flames’

Historical Society posts blog, plans book on residents tales of Almeda fire

Almeda fire stories collected by the Talent Historical Society since November 2020 are beginning to appear on a blog and will be published in a book later this year.

“Talent: Town In Flames” contains stories, along with photos and videos, that cover the event and recovery from the Sept. 8, 2020 conflagration.

So far, the organization has gathered 58 stories, over a dozen videos and other materials. Written contributions have come from 36 adults and 22 students.

Pacific Power has awarded a $2,500 grant to the society to assist with blog preparation. Last week Talent City Council voted to award $1,500 from its discretionary fund to assist with publication of the book.

Society board members were still all pretty stunned when they met in November after the fire, recalled Debra Moon, outreach coordinator and grant administrator for the society. Two of the members had lost homes.

“We went through our business kind of robotically. Then we all looked at each other and we said we have to document this for history,” said Moon. “We all voted unanimously that we had a responsibly to do that.”

“Talent: Town in Flames” currently includes a story in Spanish, with English translation, by a Talent Elementary School student; a poem and a story by an adult. The blog can be found at talenttowninflames.blogspot.com. More materials will be posted to the blog in coming weeks.

One story by a Spanish-speaking student whom Moon recalled told of a grandmother who couldn’t speak English or drive and was taking care of a number of children on the day of the fire. It recalled how the kids had to step up in the situation.

The Pacific Power grant helps with preparing materials for the blog. The Talent Historical Society is an all-volunteer effort with board members and others contributing time for collection efforts so far.

“A lot of stories have come from our members who receive the (quarterly) newsletter,” said Moon. Of 160 members, 30 have contributed after editor Myke Gelhaus put out a call. All contributions will be posted on the blog.

Video recordings of fire recollections have been done by THS President Willow McCloud. Those who didn’t want to be recorded on video were interviewed by Moon for articles. So far there are seven videos and three interviews.

Besides the THS videos, students in Marcel d’-Haem’s Talent Middle School class also contributed videos and art work.

Moon and Talent historian Jan Wright conducted online meetings with students due to COVID. The pair gave instructions on what makes history, types of questions to ask, getting the facts and interview techniques. That effort yielded seven videos.

In addition to family members, the students also interviewed a hospice worker, a firefighter, an animal shelter worker and then THS board President Ron Medinger, who lost his home.

Work is just getting started on the book. It will be a full-color publication with upgraded paper cover. Bids for printing are being sought, and cover design is underway. The city grant will help with layout, formatting and production.

An initial run of 100 copies of the full-color publication is planned. The book will be marked up slightly over cost to help pay for printing of a second edition. Book size and the number of pages have yet to be determined.

“We have to be a little more selective with the book. We want to represent all the factions of our community,” said Moon. “The fire has made us deeply aware of the diversity of our community and the people that were hardest hit.”

Stories selected for the book will appear in both English and Spanish. All materials on the blog site will also be in both languages. Talent city councilors urged representation of all groups in town when they approved their award. Talent’s Public Arts Committee has also voiced support for the projects.

A display in the museum will be the third part of the society’s Almeda portrayal. A grant will be sought from the Oregon Historical Trust to fund construction of cases that will house items in a display to be called “Liberated Archives.”

Among items already collected for display are a melted paper weight, a partially burned journal and a smoke- and heat-damaged painting.

THS is continuing to collect materials. Only two submissions from adults have been received in Spanish, and the group wants to obtain more. There have been no submissions from businesses, another sector the society wants represented.

Last names and addresses of the writers will not be used on the blog or in the book. People wanting to share stories or items should leave a message on the society’s phone at 541-512-8838.

Phoenix Historical Society has a few fire stories and photos on display at its museum but would like to collect more items. Part of a grant from the Oregon State Library funded purchase of a display case and a fan display panel for fire materials.

“We just don’t want things to be forgotten. We want people to remember what they had,” said Dorothy Cotton with the society. Materials can be mailed to the society at P.O. Box 1466, Phoenix, OR 97535 or emailed to phoenixmuseum@gmail.com. Cotton can be reached at 541-261-5118.

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