Emotions still raw for Phoenix residents, more than 18 months after Almeda Fire

PHOENIX, Ore. —A year and a half after the Almeda Fire, the lives of Phoenix residents are forever changed. And residents tell us they’re still dealing with the impact of September 8th, 2020, today. One thing became clear in talking to different Phoenix residents Monday. They’re still reeling from the effects of that day.

September 8th, 2020, is a day that still sticks with Phoenix residents Rick Sanders and Linda Welburn.

“I mean you about hear people’s houses burning down and all this stuff was gone but you never think it’s going to happen to you, it’s kind of a shock at first when you realize everything is gone,” said Sanders.

The two live near where Michael Bakkela started a fire North of Dano Way, in Phoenix, on September 8th, 2020. The Almeda Fire was already making its way north from Ashland and merged with the new arson-caused fire.

“We got the dogs and my dad, I didn’t even grab my purse that was how bad it was and so we just had nothing and Rick just kept saying it’s okay we’re just gonna go and we’ll come home when they are done,” said Welburn.

But the next day, they returned to see their whole neighborhood gone.  They admit, they dwelled on the loss. But soon they got right to the rebuilding process. Today, their home is nearly complete. They know not everyone in their small city is as lucky.

“We nowhere stable for us to be, we had to bounce around the state to state city to city, park to park just trying to find somewhere we could be for more than 2 days at a time,” said resident Brittney Leland. For some residents like Leland, the emotions are still raw.

“I still hear the explosions in my head driving through town with propane tanks exploding and houses burning and just the devastation of seeing everyone trying to run and panic,” said Leland.

Leland and her family lost everything, after just remodeling their home. For her, the rebuilding process is taking longer after they had challenges finding the right contractor, but now they’re making progress on the rebuild. In fact, Leland, Sanders, and Welburn all say, despite their traumatic experiences, they are inspired daily by the efforts they get to see.

“We watch our community every day we see a new house we count the houses and the empty lots we hate to these those because we think what happened to those families,” said Wellburn.

The Almeda Fire burned 2500 homes and killed three people.

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Jenna King is the 6pm and 11pm anchor for NBC5 News. Jenna is a Burbank, CA native. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in Sports Business. During her time at Oregon she was part of the student-run television station, Duck TV. She also grew her passion for sports through her internship with the PAC 12 Network. When Jenna is not in the newsroom you can find her rooting for her hometown Dodgers, exploring the outdoors or binging on the latest Netflix release.
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