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County seeks funding to demolish burned buildings

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune A home burned by the Almeda fire awaits demolition on Talent Avenue in Talent.
Government-funded cleanup doesn’t cover demolition

Jackson County is asking for federal help to cover the costs of demolishing homes and businesses that were heavily damaged by the Almeda fire but are still standing.

The owners of 13 damaged buildings opted into a free government-funded cleanup of their properties. But cleanup crews hit a snag because the Federal Emergency Management Agency doesn’t normally cover the cost of demolition in its disaster cleanup programs.

This week, Jackson County commissioners unanimously voted to request funding for the demolition.

“These are partially burned buildings where the remainder of the structure has no value,” said Jackson County Emergency Operations Center Director John Vial.

Vial said he’s hopeful FEMA will agree to reimburse the Oregon Department of Transportation for demolition work.

ODOT is managing the cleanup effort from September 2020 wildfires across the state. Government-funded contractors are carrying out the work.

Vial said Jackson County was previously successful in its request for FEMA to cover the cost of cleaning up fire debris from business properties, including manufactured home parks, and not just residential properties.

“They typically turn around these requests pretty quickly. We hope that will be the case this time, too,” Vial said.

Officials have identified at least six other heavily damaged standing buildings that aren’t part of the government-funded cleanup. Monday was the deadline for property owners to sign up.

Vial said it’s not clear whether all six of those buildings need to be demolished. For example, masonry walls might be salvageable if an owner replaces the burned off roof and rebuilds the interior.

“They appear to need to be demolished. They might be salvageable, but we don’t know. They aren’t participating in the cleanup program,” Vial said.

The Sept. 8, 2020, Almeda fire destroyed or heavily damaged 2,800 homes and businesses, primarily in Talent and Phoenix. The vast majority were destroyed by the fire, which leveled whole neighborhoods, apartment buildings and trailer parks.

After federal Environmental Protection Agency crews picked out hazardous debris, contractors began cleaning up rubble, burned vehicles, hazardous trees and other debris in January.

They’ve finished cleaning up more than 1,400 properties that represent approximately 87% of the sites enrolled in the cleanup program, officials said this week.

The properties are cleaned to meet environmental regulations.

Once cleaned, a property is ready for rebuilding. The owner will receive a letter from the state of Oregon saying the property cleanup is complete.

Some property owners have cleaned up their land themselves or hired their own contractors.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.