Medford Police watching Bear Creek Greenway closely as 2022 fire season begins

MEDFORD, Ore. —With fire season almost upon us, safety along the Bear Creek Greenway, is getting more important. For Medford’s Livability Team, fire season brings a heightened sense of urgency to the work they do.

“The fire danger that is on our greenway is one of the things that keeps me up at night,” Lt. Geoff Kirkpatrick with MPD.

As we enter into fire season, the fire threat along the Bear Creek Greenway is a concern among both firefighters and law enforcement. In the spring of last year, the city of Medford passed a Prohibited Camping Ordinance, to try and make the area safer. The year-round ordinance provides a clear time, place, and regulations regarding sleeping or camping within city limits.

“Just going to be a little bit more aware of the fact that it is fire season, we’ve been really preparing for this,” said Kirkpatrick. Specific sections under the ordinance apply only during fire season.

It prohibits people from lying, sleeping, and camping along the Bear Creek Greenway and Prescott Park during fire season.

“What it does do is make us more aware of the fire danger and does let us look at those camps and say this camp contains some fire dangers and we need to really prioritize the removal based on those fire dangers,” said Lt. Kirkpatrick.

The greenway is a potential powder keg. Not only does it have overgrown foliage and dry brush, but it’s a popular spot for the homeless to live. A number of fires have occurred along the greenway over the years, which stretches from Ashland to Central Point.

“When you look at all these different ignition sources whether it’s campfires, cooking fires, or bbq’s things that they are preparing food with or flicking a lit cigarette into a flammable source all those things come into play down there,” said Lt. Kirkpatrick.

Lt. Kirkpatrick says his team is still out there daily, working with individuals on the greenway to connect them with resources. One organization, involved in the efforts to help get people off the greenway into a more permanent situation is Rogue Retreat.

“We have an entire continuum from the managed campground to our Kelly Shelter, to our villages, to shared housing to apartments to there are multiple levels people can be engaged with for services,” Matthew Vorderstrasse with Rogue Retreat.

It has noticed an increase in senior homelessness and homelessness among low-income individuals. It says it’s looking to expand its services, creating more beds for the homeless.

“Ideally as more beds are created, we would love to be taking the people that have been staying on the greenway and diverting them into supportive shelter services where they can escape that well of homelessness,” said Vorderstrasse.

MPD says there are between 60 to 70% fewer camps right now, compared to last year.

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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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