Rebuilding challenges, mental health needs highlighted at fire survivor hearing – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News

Scott Stoddard/Associated Press The destruction of Coleman Creek Estates and other manufactured home parks in Phoenix and Talent is seen in this September 2020 file photo. Local wildfire survivors told lawmakers on Tuesday about the Oregon’s ongoing challenges in rebuilding after the Almeda fire.

From the desire to protect future fire survivors from having to fight their insurance companies to ongoing mental health issues related to living in temporary long-term housing, several Jackson County residents who survived the Almeda fire in 2020 gave Oregon lawmakers a lot to think about about how the Labor Day fires still affect them.

A handful of Jackson County residents were among nearly 20 wildfire survivors from across the state who spoke about their losses and shared their lingering concerns with the Oregon House Special Committee on Fire Recovery. forest in an online public meeting on Tuesday evening.

Kathy Kali, a former manufactured home park manager now active with the nonprofit Almeda Fire Zone Captains program, pointed to the rising costs of manufactured homes and rising construction costs to the eight-member committee of state, including Pam Marsh, D-Ashland and Lily Morgan. , R-Grants Pass.

Area captains are now helping around 500 people of the roughly 3,000 homes affected by the Almeda fire, Kali said.

She welcomed Marsh’s legislation focused on helping manufactured home owners, who accounted for more than half of those affected in Phoenix, Talent and North Ashland, but expressed concern that for many income earners fixed, a small insurance payment” and new small forgivable loans from the state “are just a drop in the bucket”.

In September 2020, Kali told the committee that a three-bedroom, two-bathroom prefab home cost around $100,000.

“Now those same houses cost $200,000, which puts them out of reach for those people, even with public programs,” Kali said.

Kali said the combination of rising construction material costs on traditional stick-built houses, plus supply delays “is leading to very slow reconstruction”. The process, she said, has implications for mental health.

“Fire survivors and their allies here are feeling drained and drained from the trauma of the fire and then the ensuing trauma of living in temporary accommodation for a year and a half with no end in sight,” Kali said. .

She advocated for more mental health support and resources.

“Even with the free counseling sessions we offer through our network, fire survivors in our encounters routinely express ongoing pain and suffering,” Kali said.

Committee chair Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, told Kali he takes her comments on mental health to heart and will contact her and Marsh with some possible legislative ideas.

Talent’s Michael Biggs acknowledged he was luckier than most because he was able to rebuild his home in the space of a year, but that rebuild was fraught with delays and a rigid insurance deadline. .

“It was absolutely a nightmare,” Biggs said. “We sat for almost two months waiting for the permits that were waiting on the desks to be completed.”

Although the Oregon legislature extended the rebuilding window for fire survivors from one year to two, Biggs said his insurance would only cover one year of additional housing. He said it would have been difficult for him to pay rent and the mortgage on the house that burned down.

“We had to struggle to get our house rebuilt because we had 365 days of extra housing,” Biggs said.

Biggs pointed to the fact that Rogue Valley had more than a month of dry skies in mid-winter and added, “These fires are going to happen.”

“The next people who go through this, I don’t want them going through what we went through,” Biggs said.

Contact Web Editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @MTwebeditor.

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