Two Eagle Point men say they narrowly escaped death evacuating wildfire

EAGLE POINT, Ore. – Two men claim they were never warned that the South Obenchain fire was approaching their rural Eagle Point home last week. They say their homes burned to the ground.

Eagle Point men, Preston Wamsley and Fred Cuozzo are neighbors. Both thought they were completely safe from the South Obenchain Fire last Wednesday until they saw the growing wildfire right outside their doors.

“I thought it was safe and sound,” said Preston Wamsley is a Caregiver in Eagle Point.

He woke up to the smell of smoke Wednesday, September 9, 2020 and knew something wasn’t right. He saw flames taking over trees across the highway. Immediately started packing the essentials.

“It feels like a grace of God when I woke up that moment and I was able to escape with my brother. And I had flames on my windows of my truck and I smelled burnt rubber,” said Wamsley.

By the time they had evacuated, the fire had already jumped Butte Falls Hwy.

“At one point it was just completely blinding smoke as thick as you can imagine going through the highway. There’s curves on that highway so I was just looking for that yellow divider line,” said Wamsley.

They say some neighbors got out after being warned about the fire by deputies in person, but Wamsley says he didn’t get an alert.

“There was no emergency alert that came on my phone, there was no emergency alert that came on my TV,” said Wamsley.

He realized afterwards he needed to sign up for emergency alerts through Jackson County’s Citizen Alert System.

“I would have spent the entire night packing the truck and bringing it over to family’s houses. I would have kept going, I wouldn’t have lost everything,” said Wamsley.

However, his neighbor, retired firefighter Fred Cuozzo, who is signed up for the emergency alerts, claims he didn’t get any evacuation notifications through Citizen Alert.

“I never got a level one, I never got a level two, nobody ever came to my house cause I was there,” said Cuozzo.

Cuozzo doesn’t know why things happened the way they did, but as a former firefighter he expected more.

“Obviously you learn from your mistakes. There must have been a mistake made somewhere,” said Cuozzo.

Sheriff Nathan Sickler says 8 Sheriff’s deputies and OSP troopers were up in that area of Butte Falls Hwy knocking on doors and evacuating people. He hasn’t been able to speak to all of them about the men’s claims.

Wamsley has a GoFundMe set up for his mother, who he says owns the home. Donate HERE.

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NBC5 News reporter Katie Streit comes from her hometown, Las Vegas. Katie went to the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism & Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. While in Las Vegas, Katie won a Student Emmy for her coverage of the Las Vegas Shooting Anniversary. She also hosted and produced the university's political news show, where she interviewed Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak and Congresswoman Dina Titus (NV-1). Her passion for politics turned into a coveted internship at the US Capitol in Washington D.C. In her final months working in the Las Vegas area, she was recognized for her journalism achievements by the Nevada Broadcaster's Foundation. Katie is excited to tell the stories of local Southern Oregonians and Northern Californians. Feel free to contact her at [email protected]
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