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Oregon To Cover Wildfire Cleanup Costs In Eight Counties

Royal Oaks Mobile Manor mobile home that was destroyed by Almeda Fire in 2020.
April Ehrlich
JPR News
Most of the homes at the Royal Oaks Mobile Manor in Medford were destroyed by the Almeda Fire in September.

Oregon state officials have announced that homes and businesses in eight counties will qualify for no-cost wildfire debris cleanup, including mobile home parks.

That comes as good news to Jackson County, where wildfires destroyed more than 1,000 mobile homes across 18 parks.

There have been two phases of cleanup in Oregon. Mobile home parks qualified for the first phase, which removed large hazardous materials like propane tanks and household chemicals. Now they qualify for the second, more intensive and costly “ash and trash” cleanup, which removes everything else, including a layer of topsoil.

In order to participate in the cleanup, both residential and commercial property owners need to fill out a right-of-entry form with their county or the state to allow contractors onto their properties. There isn’t a set deadline for filling out those forms, although earlier is better.

The ash and debris cleanup phase requires a lot more work, and a lot more money. Oregon state agencies have requested additional disaster relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover the costs, but that additional funding has yet to be approved. Nonetheless, the state is going to foot the bill, regardless of whether it gets reimbursed from FEMA.

“Oregonians who were impacted by these fires all deserve to have a place to rebuild,” says Lauren Wirtis, public information officer with the Oregon Debris Management Task Force. “So FEMA may reimburse us for that — those requests are in — but if not, it’s going to happen anyway and the state’s’ going to pick up that check.”

Debris cleanup is estimated to cost over $600 million, according to a press release from the task force. Homes and businesses in eight counties impacted by wildfires will qualify, including in Clackamas, Douglas, Jackson, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, and Marion counties. That includes $326 million for ash and debris removal, and $295 million for tree removal. FEMA will reimburse the state for a portion of those costs.

Wirtis says this phase of cleanup will look a little different than the hazardous waste removal implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“When the EPA came in, they started in Jackson County and moved up, county by county,” Wirtis says. “In this case [state officials] are going to coordinate contractors across the state, focusing on local contractors. This work is staying within Oregon. They’re going to be working in multiple counties at once, so this will be less a sequential cleanup and more simultaneous cleanup.”

The state is currently hiring contractors to complete statewide debris removal, which is set to begin next month. They might not complete their work for another six to 18 months.

This year’s Oregon wildfires were the largest and most expensive disaster in Oregon’s history. Nine Oregonians lost their lives and over 5,000 homes and businesses were destroyed — about half of those were in Jackson County.