Bill Smith and his wife, Jenny, with a little help from their dog, Josie, set out a sign on Medford’s Foothill Road to thank people who helped out during the Deer Ridge fire. - Bob Pennell

Footing the bill $2.3 million spent fighting Monday's fires

Corralling the fires of the South County Complex cost about $2.3 million, fire officials estimated Friday.

The two fires — the Siskiyou fire south of Ashland and the Deer Ridge fire on the east edge of Medford — started Monday amidst high winds and hot weather, and exploded in size.

Together, they threatened 500 homes, businesses and other structures on the outskirts of both towns before being contained on Thursday evening. One vacant home, several outbuildings and a pickup burned in the Siskiyou fire.

No structures were lost in the Deer Ridge fire, and a large sign now posted at City Slicker Stables on North Foothill Road thanks firefighters and others who helped.

"Thank U All! Firefighters, friends, neighbors, family and animal lovers. Bless your hearts," read the sign created by Bill and Jenny Smith, the stable owners.

The Oregon Department of Forestry, which managed the firefighting effort, footed the biggest part of the bill — about $1.8 million — but ODF will be eligible for federal reimbursement for much of its costs, said Rod Nichols, a department spokesman based in Salem.

The governor's summoning of an incident management team and a task force of fire engines and crews from several counties likely will total about $450,000. The team that came to protect buildings also will qualify for some federal reimbursement, said Rich Hoover, a spokesman at the Oregon State Fire Marshal's office.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recognized the fires as a potential disaster that could harm infrastructure and authorized federal grants from the President's Disaster Relief Fund to pay for up to 75 percent of the state's eligible firefighting costs. Eligible costs include field camps; equipment use, repair and replacement; tools, materials and supplies; and mobilization and demobilization activities.

Jackson County Fire District No. 5 Chief Dan Marshall said local districts also would qualify for some of those funds, although their costs were much lower.

He estimated that on Monday and Tuesday District 5 probably spent between $7,500 and $10,000 more than it normally would have on overtime for crews, expense reimbursement for volunteers and meals on the fire line. Additional fuel and wear on equipment could total about the same amount, potentially pushing the total costs to nearly $20,000, he said.

Marshall speculated that other local districts that assisted would face similar expenses.

Medford Fire Department officials expect to have an estimate on their costs, particularly on the Deer Ridge fire, which started in its jurisdiction, next week.

"Even though (the Siskiyou fire) was our fire, our costs were minimal compared with other pieces," Marshall said.

Aircraft that delivered precise drops of water and fire retardant cost an estimated $427,065 in Ashland and $683,603 in Medford, ODF budget estimates reported.

Wildland fire crews, including private contractors, prison inmate crews and forestry department crews called in from other districts, cost an estimated $302,675 in Ashland and $501,974 in Medford, the report said. Forestry crews who usually work in Jackson and Josephine counties weren't included in the total.

Equipment costs — from bulldozers and fire engines to chain saws and backpacks holding water — totalled $177,490 in Ashland and $132,605 in Medford, the ODF estimates said.

Support — which includes meals, hand-washing stations, laundry, garbage collection and other services — cost $11,635 in Ashland and $21,781 in Medford, the estimates said.

"It's an expensive proposition," Nichols said, noting that the costs of firefighting personnel and equipment are going up faster than general inflation.

"It's supply and demand," he said. "With so many fires in California, it's a sellers' market."

Both local and state fire officials said the FEMA emergency declaration will be important in covering the costs.

Nichols also said that the state could seek to recover costs from anyone found responsible for the fires if investigators determine that the person who started either fire disobeyed fire season restrictions.

No cause has been announced for either fire, although officials have said both were caused by humans. The investigations are ongoing.

Bill Smith said he and his wife wanted to recognize the efforts of fire crews who protected their property near the intersection of North Foothill and Delta Waters roads, as well as others who helped evacuate 30 horses, 14 goats, a handful of miniature horses and a 35-year-old donkey named Captain when flames billowed over a nearby ridge and raced along a hillside.

He said the Jackson County Sheriff's posse, "a former co-worker, a guy I went to high school with, total strangers" all helped move the animals to safety.

"When there's a crisis, people pitch in to help," Smith said. "The Rogue Valley is an awesome place to live."

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail

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