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EPA Begins Hazardous Waste Cleanup After Almeda Drive Fire

Fire damage at Royal Oaks Mobile Manor in Phoenix after the Almeda Drive Fire.
Erik Neumann/JPR
Fire damage at Royal Oaks Mobile Manor in Phoenix after the Almeda Drive Fire.

EPA cleanup teams and contractors are in communities around Talent and Phoenix, Oregon this week to search for hazardous household waste like car batteries, pesticides, aerosols and asbestos in the first stage of cleanup following the Almeda Drive Fire.

Removing hazardous waste must take place before more widespread ash and debris removal can be done in order to lead the way for communities to rebuild. This first step is expected to last through December in Jackson County.

Residents must first sign a Right of Entry form before officials can access their property. According to John Vial with Jackson County, officials have received just under 600 forms from property owners. That’s about two thirds of what they need to complete their work.

“We need people to send these forms in so we can get started on this cleanup and help get us back on the road to recovery,” Vial says. County officials are asking residents to submit forms by Friday, Oct. 23.

EPA crews are prioritizing cleanup of mobile home parks that were destroyed in the Almeda Drive Fire, from which hundreds of low-income residents were displaced. Focusing on mobile home parks will help repopulate low-income communities in the county, Vial says.

The hazardous waste cleanup is not expected to stir up airborne chemicals or debris, according to Randy Nattis, the EPA incident commander for the Almeda Drive Fire cleanup.

“We will not expect to see issue[s] with local air quality from particulates or anything else that we will take up and transfer to the staging area,” Nattis says. "We will not see any issues for the local communities."

Once collected, the hazardous materials will be stabilized and disposed of at a licensed landfill that, Nattis says, will most likely be out-of-state. Hazardous household waste cleanup is being paid for by FEMA and the state at no cost to residents.

Jackson is the first county in Oregon to begin this cleanup phase, of the many communities around the state affected by fires this year. Seven other Oregon counties where communities were damaged by wildfires are expected to begin the hazardous waste cleanup phase in the coming week. Those counties include Clackamas, Douglas, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Linn and Marion.

After the hazardous waste cleanup is completed, households will be able to begin the second phase of cleanup which focuses on ash and debris removal.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.