Talent turns to state for funding post-Almeda fire

TALENT, Ore. — The city of Talent is asking for state funding after its fire hydrants ran out of water during the Almeda fire. The city manager of Talent, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, tells NBC5 News fire hydrants ran dry during the Almeda fire, due to the intense heat that came with the flames. Firefighters say the lack of water hindered their ability to save homes.

The city of Talent is now asking for money to build up fire resiliency. “Can you imagine the terror of having the courage to face this wall of flames on behalf of your community and then have your water line go dry, your hose goes dry? That’s what our firefighters were facing,” said McLeod-Skinner.

“Water runs from the city of Medford, through Phoenix, Talent and then up to Ashland. It runs parallel to I-5 and its just this one big pipe that runs through,” said McLeod-Skinner. She says it wasn’t until the fire was burning in Phoenix, that trouble with the water line began.

“What happened is the water was so hot when it burned homes, it completely melted everything, including the PVC pipes. So the plumbing we have in our homes, it melted that and water just started rushing out,” said McLeod-Skinner. “Then all of those pipes are melted and water is just spewing out into the street,” said Fire Chief Charles Hanley with Jackson County Fire District 5.

Precious water, that could have been used to fight the oncoming flames. “It really precluded us from fighting some of the fire that we would have liked to, on structures like apartments. That’s when we started doing a water shuttle from Talent back to Ashland,” said Chris Chambers, Wildfire Division Chief with Ashland Fire and Rescue.

He says firefighters had to maneuver I-5 since 199 was closed, get to the Ashland water system, connect, fill up and shuttle back. “When you have that many homes burning in one area it just becomes a losing battle, and a lot of homes and businesses had burned already before the water loss,” said Chambers.

To prevent water lines drying up in the future, the city is turning to the state for more funding. “The system, if we’re going to be better, needs to be upgraded and we need sufficient storage capabilities in all of the communities,” said Chief Hanley.

“One of the things we’ve asked the legislature for is more money to create redundancy in the system, so we can provide that sense of security. Another thing we’ve asked for in Talent, is additional water storage so that even if something were to happen to the water lines in the future, we would still be able to protect our community,” said McLeod-Skinner.

In the city’s rebuilding effort, it also posted new evacuation maps online.

“These maps are going to be a great help because if the folks aren’t in there then we’re able to get in there and fight the fire and if we have to rush in and rescue people from their homes, it takes us away from those tasks,” said Chief Hanley.

Firefighters will use these predetermined zones to notify residents of the easiest way to evacuate. The city encourages people to get familiar with the map just in case. “It’s an interactive system, people can type in their address and figure out an evacuation route, if something were to happen,” said McLeod-Skinner.

The online tool also provides evacuation checklists which are available in both English and Spanish.

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Madison LaBerge
Madison LaBerge is the anchor of NBC5 News Weekends at 6 and 11. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Madison is originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico. She loves living in the Pacific Northwest. She can't get over "how green everything is!" When Madison is not at work, she looks for new and exciting cooking recipes and explores Southern Oregon. Feel free to send her story ideas or the address of your favorite Mexican food restaurant!