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Tuesday, 28 September 2021

First responders tell the Almeda Fire story

Credit: KDRV
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First responders tell the Almeda Fire story
First responders tell the Almeda Fire story
First responders tell the Almeda Fire story

O share their side of the story as they remember the september day that they will never forget.

Kocia: i was the i was the sergeant for the day and i was on a fire on the greenway behind the expo and as i was clearing that was when we got the call for the assistance from ashland police department jimmy : it was kind of odd dispatch due to the concern that all the dispatchers had butted-- the concern that they had kind of relayed over the radio and that's kind of what brought a few of the guys in off duty as deputies arrived on the scene, they worked to evacuate the surrounding homes and then grabbed a hose to start fighting the fire.

Kocia: deputy richmond, deputy ponder, and myself got a hose and we were trying to put out the fire on the backside of this house so it didn't burn around this house and it was about that point that the fire blew up and it raced across this field and hit eagle mill road ávideoá kocia: i believe it was deputy vial that went back out back out eagle mills road and by that time it had hit eagle mill and the power poles were on fire and they were dropping and making eagle mill road impassable the only option left for police was to go through ashland to try to get around to the front of the fire.

Kocia: as we came down this road this was completely packed with vehiclesbutted--we were in the oncoming lanes just trying to get around through the cars i mean like this corner was completely backed up all the way down around this corner as officers worked to get ahead of the fire, they watched flames tearing through the fields next to them.

Sickler : at that time it was in ashland, north ashland and they were responding ashland and they ashland, north time it was in sickler : at that them.

Fields next to through the tearing flames tearing through the fields next to them.

Sickler : at that time it was in ashland, north ashland and they were responding both police and fire and as things started to evolve and it seem like it was getting growing at a pretty rapid rate i think everyone pretty much just said we need to mobilize and get down there so see what we can do to help aaron says: i mean honestly my mind once i got to valley view i was thinking great you have a few resources here we can take the heat out of it hopefully we stop it here then after we lost low road i was like we need to get way ahead of this, its going lot faster and hotter than weerd cia: we heore units thate comind then we get up here on south valley view and there were fire trucks at the gas stations which obviously there's flames at the gas stations which is a concern but their hoses were across the road so it was impossible for us to get past and over onto the other side of the freeway the only way to get to the other side and help evacuations was to go down through talent and back up the interstate.

Meanwhile, some police and fire crews were trapped, working to get people out.

Kocia: at that point lieutenant walden and deputy osborne were in 1 corral ln.

Which was being overtaken by the fire at that time but we couldn't get in there to help them butted -- they went into the park to evacuate that park and the radio traffic was pretty horrendous áradio trafficá kocia: they were in here as these trailers were on fire butted-- that point i thought they were going to be gone -- it basically sounded like the fire was overtaking them áradio trafficá and then their radio cut.

Kocia: i got stuck on the freeway down here, there were trucks that had just been abandoned in the middle of the freeway - people had disconnected their trailers and the way that the wind was blowing with smoke you couldn't see to go any further up the freeway so i couldn't get to lieutenant walden and osborne so we had to turn around without time to think about the officers still stuck in the fire, focus had to stay on continuing to protect as many people as possible.

Kocia: from this point now the fire had jumped the freeway and then it's still running northbound through the greenway and so we had to split up units -- we had units up on the other side of the freeway taking care of those evacuations on that side and then we had more units that were heading towards talent which it hadn't hit talent at that point whipple : it just became this big convoy of vehicles picking people up on the highway that were running down the highway // so we're trying to keep them from getting hit by cars and also staying ahead of the fire there were a lot of people that were elderly and physically disabled there were people in electric wheelchairs just wheeling down the highway going two miles an hour just trying to get out of it // some guy who's just trying to get out of the fire himself in a flatbed truck pulls up and helps us load this wheelchair there's electric wheelchair and took like four of us to load it up by this time it was all hands on deck, multiple agencies off duty officers, detectives, parol officers everyone was jumping in to help evacuate talent and phoenix.

Aaron says: it definitely turned to more of a we want to save as much property as we can but we've got to get people out of here quickly kocia: it was a line of police cars out getting on s.

Pacific highway and just hitting all the trailer parks trying to get out of this butted-- i actually called my wife and said hey i don't want to scare you but you need to get some stuff together and put it aside and if i call you load it up and leave police and fire crews were working as fast as they could kocia: we're having to fight traffic to get back up in here and then trying to get that northbound traffic moving which it was a daunting task oregon department of transportation jackson county roads without their assistance it would've been horrible not being able to get that traffic moving again and keep people from trying to come back into these areas jimmy: there were a lot of times where we were stopped fighting fire and also directing traffic so that was another layer of urgency so one person is on the fire hose the another person is directing cars to turn around and kind of which direction to go whipple : we were just going through and trying to notify people at first our standard way of doing it is going to each address and knocking on the door and making contact but it dawned on me that there wasn't any time for that it was threatening the structures that were at the back and south end of the park already so we just started getting on the pa ápa warning natsá whipple: we were on the pa as loud as we could sirens just making loops through these areas and getting people out kocia: as i came around the corner here there was a parole and probation officer that was out here he was trying to evacuate some people with special needs so we had to get some vans in here to get them evacuated so the sheriffs office was now running like 3 15-passenger vans that we're going out and picking up anybody that needed to be picked up whipple : i diverted and went to the jail in medford and i talked to lieutenant aldridge and anybody standing in the parking lot and we grabbed transporter vans that we have there and we started going down to get in front of the fire and see if we can help evacuate people kocia: there were seven kids that their parents weren't home and they had no way out and so i had to call for some other units because i didn't have enough room to get all seven in my car so we called more units to load the kids up whipple: it was kind of a blur at that point back-and-forth for hours kocia: by the time we came back in again 135 third fern valley was already on fire and these trailers right here were all on fire - we continued through the park making sure we got everybody out and this was all on fire as we went by butted-- it's just a wall of black dark smoke the sun whatever light we had was being taken away by how thick and dark the smoke was i was just we got to get you guys out of there aaron says: and then at one point the tender i was in actually caught on fire butted--we kept losing hydrants so we lost water pressure in the city the next thing we know we lost it further out all the way to where we're going to have to send units in to ashland to get more water so you're looking at a 15 minute turnaround just to get units back in as the fire continued to race north, air resources were deployed.

Kocia: you look out your window and you saw the air tanker doing airdrops on the other side of these buildings and trees and i think that's when you realize oh my goodness i can't believe i'm seeing an air tanker drop on his fire and there at your window level how low they were whipple : i've never been that close to drops -- it was very apparent it was different than a lot of fires i had been at when they were dropping the retardant on houses in a subdivision in the middle of town aaron: the air support we had the other day i mean they were working as hard as they could work as well but it just seems even with all the air support it still wasn't stopping the fire // i mean when you see a dc-10 drop in talent and it doesn't even slow fire down that's hard to imagine or even think that is possible record breaking winds, were not only overpowering air support, they were literally pushing against ground crews.

Jimmy : at one point we were trying to get out of the fire truck and the wind was blowing against the door so hard that it seems like someone was on the other side pushing against it so when you have to use two hands in your shoulder to open the door you know you have some significant wind first responders from all different agencies were mixing together, forming make-shift groups to tackle the fire and evacuations as quickly as possible.

Aarong: as the day progressed i ended up in a subdivision over in talent and it just kind of one way and one way out and there was one other unit in there again we were trying to make a stop because we thought eventually the winds are going to settle down and we can get a hold of this as were in there that subdivision started to burn and once again were in that point where well we can't do this we need to make sure it's evacuated and as we're going through we found people still in there a lady didn't even know the fire was going on and fortunately we were able to get them out that was my fear as well that i was really scared for how many people maybe we couldn't have gotten to or didn't even know the fire was going on each and every person working that night told me they fully expected to find dozens dead dozens whom they feared they had worked so hard to save but failed to reach sickler: the first night we were thinking it could be much worse we were we were thinking there could be a lot of loss of life whipple: they're all disasters but this feels like a true natural disaster a lot of loss of property and what i knew at the time i thought there was a lot of loss of life kocia: i still don't know how we got everybody out almost everybody the heroes who worked that night are with the community still working to process what happened.

Whipple: there was a lot of work to be done a lot of work to be done there still a lot of work to be done there are people that are still working with displaced residents that were there with us to begin with i got to go home at the end of the day and get a little bit of sleep but there are still people helping almeda fire's first responders remain ready to help, well beyond that day on september eighth.

Aaron: we just want you to know that we worked as hard as we could and we feel your loss and we definitely want to be a part of the rebuilding process and

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