Fire Finances: wildfire evacuees still feel the effects of leaving home during fire season

Flames from the Ramsey Canyon Fire burn some underbrush in Jackson County. (Courtesy: Oregon Department of Forestry)

During the 2018 Fire Season, Oregon Department of Forestry in Jackson and Josephine Counties spent $70 million on firefighting and investigation efforts.

A number of fires were human caused, but few specific causes were found on fires that were more than a few dozen acres.

Two incidents in particular in Jackson and Josephine Counties cost ODF the vast majority of their spending in 2018: the Garner Complex and the Taylor Creek Fire.

"The helicopters were stationed in a field two properties away from us and going over our house by about 20 feet, and that was frightening," Arlene Crandall, a Taylor Creek Fire evacuee who has since moved to Medford, said.

Both were caused by lightning on July 15th. Together they cost the district $65 million. Despite being a third of the size, 8886 acres, the Garner Complex cost $40 million compared to Taylor Creek's $25 million.

According to ODF, it's all about location and accessibility.

"Wildland firefighting is a lot more efficient when it's near a road," ODF's Public Information Officer Brian Ballou said. "A lot of these fires were not near roads."

The remaining $5 million was spent on every other fire in the district (hundreds), including human-caused ones like the Ramsey Canyon Fire and Hugo Road Fire.

"We had burnt debris falling in our yard, burnt debris," Jaymi Watson, a Ramsey Canyon Fire evacuee who has since moved about a mile away from where she was during the fire, said.

Watson thinks whoever cause the fire to ignite should be held responsible.

"They need to be brought into accountability," Watson said.

The investigation is still ongoing and only the general cause is known: Equipment Use.

That's the same general cause for the Hugo Road Fire. While ODF notified residents in a news release that a tree had fallen on power lines, sparking the fire, the agency's website still does not have a specific cause listed for how this fire started.

"I thought it was coming this way," 6-year-old Aspen Mason, whose family evacuated while still under a Level 2 'Be Set' order, said. "I'm afraid of fire!"

While it didn't burn nearly as many acres, 216 compared to Ramsey Canyon's 1971, it was just a few property lines away from Aspen's home.

"The fire came and it was right there [by] the neighbor's house," Aspen said.

Both Watson and Aspen's families decided to evacuate their homes under Level 2 orders.

ODF responds to hundreds of fires every year - this year ODF saw 348 fires that burned 49,311 acres. Most of these are actually smaller than an acre, so those causes are easily determined.

The other, bigger fires could actually take years to solve. Even then, taxpayers might be on the hook for the human-caused fires.

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