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Phoenix declares potential state of emergency from fire risk


Jackson County sheriff’s deputies will post eviction notices in an area of transient camps in northwest Phoenix Thursday after city officials raised concerns about the camps and brush creating fire dangers.

Phoenix Mayor Chis Luz emailed Jackson County officials Tuesday about potentially declaring a city state of emergency, given a potential for loss of life or property. Phoenix and Jacksons County had been communicating on the issue since Friday. Luz wrote the informal notice was to prompt immediate action.

“My request is in no way meant to accuse or blame anyone, any agency or any department. My request is meant to alert the appropriate individuals to a serious potential for a fire disaster to a portion of Phoenix,” Luz wrote in the email.

One or two deputies, accompanied by Phoenix police officers, will post eviction notices on 33 acres of county land west of the railroad tracks, said Sheriff Nate Sickler. Under Oregon law, 24 hours’ notice must be given before evictions.

“We are about taxed, but we are able to get down there and post it at least and tell them they have to leave,” said Sickler. Department personnel are busy dealing with issues related to fires, the Country Crossings music festival, and doing work on the Bear Creek Greenway Thursday, he said. A sweep of the camps would occur when staffing allows.

Residences on Quail Lane, Arana Drive, south sections of Brandon Way and North Rose Street are closest to county land. An estimated 200 to 300 people live in the area.

Jackson County Community Justice crews may begin cutting vegetation bordering the railroad tracks as early as Thursday, said County Administrator Danny Jordan. The county has a contract with Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad under which the crews maintain rights of way when authorized by the railroad. Railroad officials were working to get approvals needed, said Jordan.

Dry vegetation in the railroad right of way is adjacent to the fences of homes on Quail Lane and Arana Drive, Luz said.

“We are not going to cut 32 or 33 acres. We can cut back from the right of way,” said Jordan. “There’s no law or ordinance that requires the county to maintain property. We’d be mowing hundreds of miles of grass in case there might be a fire.”

Phoenix has been given authorization to enter the property to perform maintenance it deems necessary at city expense, said Jordan. There are county land holdings adjacent to every city in Jackson County’s 2,800 square miles, he said.

“We don’t intend to address the whole (Phoenix) lot, but rather, we intend to create a firebreak,” Jordan wrote in an email to commissioners and county officials Wednesday morning in response to Luz’s email.

When Jordan first learned of the city’s concerns Friday, he directed the sheriff’s office, Community Justice and Property Management to look into different aspects of the issue.

“There have been fires there twice over the last five years,” Luz said Wednesday. While touring that area recently with Deputy Chief Vince Lockett of Jackson County Fire District 5, Luz saw brush as high as 6 feet, fire rings and transient camps, he said. One camp had five large tents and piles of trash.

Tuesday evening, Luz walked streets in the area informing neighbors of the problem and asking them to ensure their properties were maintained to prevent spread of fire. He planned to meet with residents of the Rose Apartments on Rose Street Wednesday evening to discuss concerns.

“I just wanted to take a step before we had to declare an emergency and nip the situation in the bud before it starts a fire,” said Luz.

Declaration of an emergency would allow the city to divert funds, provide legal protection, raise public awareness and request state and federal aid. The City Council would need to approve a request for the declaration, which would designate the area, describe potential damages and state measures to be taken.

Three recent wildland blazes in the Medford-Central Point area have been attributed to fires started by transients, including the July 17 fire near the Jackson County Expo that rapidly spread eastward, burning numerous outbuildings, damaging homes and forcing the evacuation of businesses and residences in a 2-mile-radius area.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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