PHOENIX, Ore. – We’re learning more about one of the reported victims from the Almeda fire. Friends are calling him a hero. We’re told that one of the people who died in the fire, worked with others to evacuate a 55+ community in Phoenix, before law enforcement could arrive. Neighbors say the man and a handful of other people were calling for residents to leave, packing up pets, and pounding on doors. NBC5 News spoke with one of those community members about their efforts as the flames bore down on them.
“It sounded like a freight train,” recalled Shehan Boeme as he remembered Tuesday, September 8th and the approaching Almeda fire, “… an inferno, apocalypse thing coming at you.”
The Phoenix resident said he rushed toward the flames, instead of away. Boeme said when he got to the Bear Lake Estates, a community for those ages 55 and older, the fire was just a little over a football field away from the back of the property.
“I don’t know how to explain how it was. It was just so fast and we had to go,” said Boeme. That’s when he said they started evacuating residents. “I see all these elderly people out in their yard, like not knowing really what to do, because no one really said. I was just telling as much people to go as I can.”
But Boeme wasn’t alone, another man who friends say died, along with men on golf carts were trying to help evacuate the residents.
“Don was literally hosing things down, he was yelling at the people. Shehan was screaming at people, ‘Get out, you have to get out!'” Joanna Mohr was one of the residents Shehan helped at the next park over. She also knew Donald Schmidt. Shehan says Schmidt was likewise evacuating the elderly in the park, but they say Schmidt did not survive.
“To know that Shehan, and Don, and the men on the golf carts were at least trying to get people out, because the cops never made it to Bear Lake [Estates] as far as we know,” trailed off Mohr.
Shehan says as he and the others raced through the park, he took a little video, the last to show this community still standing and they also say capturing Schmidt’s heroic efforts.
“We’ve lost Don, and Don was a hero,” said Mohr in tribute. “He also got people out, and I wish that it wouldn’t have been the same situation: That he would have been successfully evacuated from the park too.”
The Jackson County Sheriff’s office has not confirmed the names of the three known victims of the Almeda fire. We reached out to Sheriff Nathan Sickler, he would neither confirm, nor deny our report. Meantime, Mohr says Donald Schmidt and Shehan Boeme are heroes.
“I am in great gratitude for what this man did for me,” said Mohr pointing to Boeme.
Like many in the community, the two families set up GoFundMe pages here and here*. Both Boeme and Mohr said they hope their story will shine a light on Schmidt’s brave actions and provide a beacon of hope moving forward.
Jennifer Elliott anchors the primetime newscast FOX26 First News at Ten on NBC5’s partner station, KMVU/FOX26. She also reports for NBC5 News. Jennifer began her career at NBC5 News in 2011 as a production assistant. Raised in Southern Oregon, she studied voice and piano while attending South Medford High School. After graduating from Brigham Young University, she returned home and added organ playing to her musical repertoire. In addition to her musical talents, Jennifer is an award-winning artist. She has also co-hosted Southern Oregon’s Got Talent. Jennifer is married and the mother of three children who keep her busy and very happy.