The Almeda Fire’s Impact


Isa Martinez Moore

A dark smoky haze covered the sky and made the sun look orange for days after the fire.

On September 8, 2020, 3,200 acres of land were consumed by fire. Many of those acres were in the Phoenix/Talent area. The Almeda fire burned 2,357 homes, according to the Oregon Community Foundation (OCF), and that doesn’t include all of the non-residential buildings that burned.  

People felt lost and scared yet, oddly enough, hopeful. When walking around Talent on the 8th and the days following, many people’s faces were filled with worry, but talking to each of them revealed how hopeful they were. They were hopeful for the firefighters who were working their hardest to contain the fire. Firefighters from all over were coming to help. They were hopeful for the family and friends that they hadn’t talked to in months. People were even giving each other hope by giving them a place to stay after evacuating.  

Josephine Puckett, a Talent resident of eight years and a Junior at Ashland High School, said, “We ended up going to our friends’ house. I’m very grateful that our friends let us stay for so long and they were very hospitable and very kind.”  

Many people found themselves calling half of the people in their contacts list to make sure that they were safe and taken care of. Despite the hopeful attitude in many, the destruction eventually got to the community’s head. Now that friends and family are accounted for, what is happening in the aftermath? 

Passing by Talent and Phoenix there are many trailer parks and apartments you can spot along the freeway. The fire ran along that same freeway. A resident in one of those trailer parks, Jairo Gomez lived with his three kids and in-laws. They barely had time to get out. He told the Washington Post, “In less than five minutes everything was gone.” Talent and Phoenix both have a large Latinx community. In fact, about half of the Phoenix/Talent school district’s students are Latinx, and they were disproportionately affected by the fires. Many lost their homes. The LA Times have tallied that 80% of their students attending one elementary school on the edge of Phoenix and Medford are without homes. With many of the Latinx community living in the trailer parks and affordable housing areas of the towns and those areas now burned to the ground, they have nowhere to go.  

Regarding the people that lost their homes, Puckett said, “A lot of people of a lot of incomes were able to live here… but now those apartments are all gone.” The future of their homes isn’t looking too bright either. Housing costs have been rising in the area for the past few years and now that these areas must be rebuilt, some wonder if the newly built housing will be affordable. 

People have lost their homes and people whose homes survived have lost their sense of safety. People lost more things in the fires than their homes. Oregon Governor Kate Brown is working at restoring hope, though. Brown announced the 2020 Community Rebuilding Fund less than a week after the fires scorched Southern Oregon. Companies and individuals alike have come together to organize these funds. Big name companies that originate from the Northwest like Nike and Starbucks have given substantial amounts to the cause. The fund has so far raised $5,000,000 as reported by OCF. This money is specifically being allocated to rebuilding communities and buildings and structures burned by the fires. Grantmakers reported that they also want to center their efforts around the disadvantaged populations like the Tribal and Latinx communities. 

The community leaders who have spoken out during this time of tragedy are encouraging kindness for one another. Among them is Ashley Espinoza, a Sector Strategy Director for Lane Workforce Partnership. Espinoza and many others in the Phoenix/Talent area hold hope and pride for the Southern Oregon community. They maintain courage that the community will be stronger because of every tragedy and loss that Oregonians have suffered this year. Espinoza told OCF, “It is almost too much for me to wrap my brain around actually, but I think it’ll be important during this time and into recovery that we all lead with kindness and empathy.”