Old mortar round forces evacuation

WHITE CITY — A bomb scare forced the partial evacuation of the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics Thursday when a man brought a World War II-era munition to the front gate, officials said.

The man found what turned out to be a nonexplosive mortar round on his property on East Evans Creek Road and decided to take it to the Department of Veterans Affairs site.

"He thought because we are a federal building that we would deal with it," said Rhonda Haney, SORCC public affairs specialist.

The area around what now is White City was a sprawling Army training camp during World War II, and munitions turn up now and again. A man plowing a field turned up a live mortar round loaded with highly flammable white phosphorus in the summer of 2007. Concrete bunkers where soldiers trained with live ammunition still dot the countryside.

SORCC officials locked down the site and evacuated four buildings near the front gate, Haney said.

"We had to move a lot of people to safety," Haney said. "Even though we were fairly sure the shell was harmless, we had to take the measures just in case it was a live round."

Bomb technicians with Oregon State Police and the Jackson County Sheriff's Department arrived at the facility and loaded the shell into a blast-proof enclosure for safe transport.

Haney said she did not know what the bomb technicians planed to do with the round.

"It caused quite a stir for a while, but soon everything went back to normal," she said.

Haney said she did not believe the man would face criminal charges in connection with the scare.

"He made a mistake bringing it to us," Haney said. "We do not think he had bad intentions."

SORCC officials strongly encourage anyone who finds an old shell, even a training round, to leave it where they find it and call police to dispose of it.

"Some of the bombs people have found are live and very dangerous," Haney said.

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters said the bomb squad is called out every so often to deal with World War II munitions.

"We can't stress it enough for people to leave them alone and let us deal with them," Winters said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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