Almeda Fire Day 10: Recovery Updates – FEMA Assistance & New Resources

A week and a half after the devastating Almeda fire ripped through our communities, we are beginning to understand the nature of this catastrophe.

Initial assessment has pegged the number of lost homes, including apartments, manufactured homes, and houses at more than 2,350. In addition, businesses along the corridor from just north of the Valley View interchange through Phoenix were consumed by fire. Thousands of us were displaced, and many more are grieving for the losses sustained by friends and neighbors.

Local, state and federal governments are in the early stages of collaboration on a comprehensive clean-up plan. As tempting as it is to start thinking about entering the area to sift through the damage – please don’t. Many burned areas are highly toxic. Even ash can contain asbestos and heavy metals. If you absolutely must return, wear protective clothing, including boots, heavy clothing, gloves and masks. We need to have strategies in place to assess, collect, treat, and dispose of this waste. 

Below you will find new information about accessing FEMA assistance, filing insurance claims, enrolling for health insurance, utility billing, replacing vital records, voting and more. 

Also new is a list of resources to support emotional health. Many of us are in state of grief and trauma. Please access the support you need, and share these resources with loved ones in distress.

Ten days is just the start of the marathon ahead. Stabilizing and then rebuilding lost homes and businesses will take years. But the tremendous efforts we’ve seen in the past week should give us all hope. We are a resilient, strong and focused community, and we will figure out the path forward. My heartfelt thanks to you all.

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FEMA INDIVIDUAL ASSISTANCE

The Major Disaster Declaration is now in effect for the state of Oregon. The second stage of FEMA engagement, the major disaster declaration opens to the door to individual assistance. 

• Anyone impacted by the wildfires should sign up for assistance through FEMA as soon as possible: https://www.disasterassistance.gov/; 1-800-621-3362; or 1-800-462-7585 TTY

• If you are insured, utilize the maximum insurance benefits to which you are entitled.

• There is a maximum household benefit of $35,500 for those who are uninsured or underinsured and lost property. This includes repairs, temporary housing, and replacement of household appliances and goods.

• There is also a maximum $35,500 benefit for “other needs assistance,” which includes medical and dental expenses, the repair, cleaning or replacement of clothing, household items, and necessary special materials like computers, schoolbooks or supplies. It can go to clean-up items, fuel for primary heat sources, and repairing or replacing vehicles that were damaged in the disaster, and to cover funeral and burial costs.

The Jackson County Emergency Operations Center has requested a Federal Type III All Hazards Incident Management Team to assist us in this recovery. These FEMA teams are experienced in helping communities recover from disasters like we’ve suffered and can provide guidance on all aspects of this process. 

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TEMPORARY HOUSING

The Expo continues to function as the County’s primary evacuation site for daytime services and nighttime shelter. Residents needing mental health counseling, physical health care, veteran’s services, SNAP benefits, or other social supports should visit the Expo as a one-stop service center. The Expo will remain open for overnight shelter for as long as it is needed. The Red Cross is now on site and may be able to provide motel vouchers to those in need.

For the longer term, we will need to have transitional housing options available for the next 1-2 years while we clean up and then rebuild.

–Shared housing:

The first and most obvious strategy is to ensure that we are using our existing housing stock to maximum capacity.

• Individuals with an extra rental unit or a surplus bedroom or those in need of housing can register on the ACCESS Housing Connection Portal: https://www.accesshelps.org/housingconnection/

• The Resolve Center has developed this Shared Housing Facilitation resource with considerations for individuals considering a home share: https://mcusercontent.com/…/Shared_Housing_Facilitation_Fly…

–Temporary living units:

We are still waiting to hear whether FEMA will provide trailers, purchase recreational vehicles, or provide other additional housing units during this critical period. However, anticipating units of some kind, local officials are creating an inventory of possible sites for consideration. First priority will be those in or near the communities of Talent and Phoenix and with access to services, transportation and schools.

–Flexible Infill:

Recognizing that RVs, yurts or other innovative housing modes will be a critical to expand supply, local communities are evaluating temporary rule waivers that could allow placement in driveways or on empty city lots. 

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INSURANCE CLAIMS

For homeowners and renters with coverage, see this info on filing a claim: https://dfr.oregon.gov/insu…/home/storm/Pages/wildfires.aspx

In Oregon, insurance typically covers fire, smoke, and ash damage to your home and personal property. There is no difference in type of fire. Wildfire damage is covered just like a kitchen or electrical fire would be covered under your policy.

Please consider this important consumer advice from the Oregon Department of Financial Regulation:

• You should not be rushed or pressured during your insurance settlement process. You have a right to see the full settlement evaluation, look at the bid, get comparable value information, and take your time. If you are feeling pressure from your insurance company to settle, you have a right to file a complaint online at dfr.oregon.gov. To talk to a consumer advocate, call 888-877-4894 (toll free).

• Before hiring an attorney or public adjuster, determine if they are the right person for your situation. They will charge a fee based on your settlement amount. Typically, it is better to work with your insurance company to understand your responsibilities and the settlement process. If you are confused about your responsibilities and the process, call our consumer advocates for clarity.

• If your insurance company pays you an advance, understand what it is for. It is not a grant. The advance is usually for additional living expenses or part of the personal property settlement. In either case, the final payment for your personal property or additional living expenses will be reduced by the amount of the advance.

• Additional living expenses (ALE) covers expenses you incur above and beyond your normal costs. Normal costs are what you normally spend for food, utilities, and mortgage or rent. Even if the home is gone, you still need to pay the mortgage. Being out of your home may cause you to incur additional costs, such as a hotel room, eating at restaurants, or additional rent. Those additional costs may be covered by ALE under your policy. Everyone’s case is unique; there is a deductible on your policy, so contact your insurance company for the details of your policy coverage.

• Recovery takes time. Try to understand that the wildfire season has been extreme, and insurance companies are doing the best they can to serve their customers. You may receive an advance payment to help get started. Be patient, do the best you can, keep trying, and know that your settlement could take months while bids and estimates are gathered. If you believe you are not making progress with your insurance company or have an unresolved issue, call our consumer advocates for help.

• Do all you can to help the process. Take time to do your inventory. Details will come back to you at any time, so carry a note pad and a pen on you to jot down the items as you remember them. Ask friends, family, and neighbors to help you remember details. As you walk through stores or drive through a commercial area, you may be reminded of items such as kitchen utensils or hand tools. Keep building your inventory list with more and more details.

• For more information: call 888-877-4894 (toll free) 

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UTILITY BILLING

–Avista

Avista is proactively closing the accounts for homes and businesses that were lost in the fires, so customers do not need to do this. Customers will not be charged for any energy usage since their last bill, or for any other existing account balances. Customers will not owe Avista for any current or past balances at the location that was lost. Avista customer service representatives are calling to inform customers of this, as well as sending a letter to each account. For questions or concerns, call 1-800-227-9187.

–Pacific Power

If your power is out due to damage or if your home has been destroyed due to recent wildfires, contact Pacific Power’s care center team at 1-888-221-7070 anytime, 24/7. They will assist customers in closing or suspending their accounts, and with other service or billing questions. https://www.pacificpower.net/

–Rogue Valley Sewer Services

Customers whose homes or businesses were damaged or destroyed by recent fires will have their sewer billing suspended effective September 8. RVSS will work to identify affected buildings so customers do not have to contact the office to suspend service. https://www.rvss.us/newsroom.asp?specific=48

–Spectrum

Spectrum is conducting field surveys to identify impacted addresses and is in the process of reaching out proactively to customers that are identified as impacted by the fires.

• Customer support can be accessed online at https://www.spectrum.com/ or toll-free at 1-855-707-7328, 24/7/365

• Customers who have experienced property damage from the fires may cancel their service or chose service suspension for up to nine-months (six-months for small business customers), and changes to service are effective as of the date of the disaster event.

• Customers are not required to go to a store to return damaged equipment or change their account status; you can call the customer service number to make these changes over the phone.

• In the event that equipment experienced damage or loss due to the fire disaster, Spectrum is waiving unreturned equipment charges.

• All customers in the impacted localities have been flagged for collection protection for both core cable and mobile services, giving them time to resolve their account status and to pay any amounts owed to the company.

–City of Talent Water

Water has been turned off in all damaged areas and accounts are shut down going forward. The final bill will reflect only the minimum monthly charge for September plus proration to September 8 for other fees. 

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HEALTH INSURANCE ENROLLMENT

People affected by recent wildfires can use the FEMA emergency declaration to take advantage of an exceptional circumstances special enrollment period (SEP). FEMA declared the Oregon wildfires a federal emergency on Sept. 15, 2020.

• Oregonians will have up to 60 days from the end of the FEMA-designated incident period to select a new health insurance plan through HealthCare.gov, or to make changes to their existing health insurance plan.

• People who experienced a life change are eligible for a standard special enrollment period that allows them to sign up for a plan 60 days before or 60 days after their life change to enroll in a plan. Examples of a life change include loss of coverage due to loss of employment, marriage, addition of a new family member, gaining lawful immigration status, and moving homes.

• Oregonians who were eligible for a standard special enrollment period, but missed this window due to the Oregon wildfires, can use the FEMA SEP to enroll in a plan.

• The FEMA SEP due to the Oregon wildfires is available for people who qualified for a special enrollment period from Sept. 8 through up to 60 days after the FEMA emergency has ended. Oregonians still have at the very earliest until Nov. 15, 2020 to use the FEMA SEP.

• Applications are being accepted at https://www.healthcare.gov/ if the life change is a loss in coverage, and at 800-318-2596 (toll-free) for all other life changes.

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VITAL RECORDS

Fees for obtaining certified copies of Oregon vital records are temporarily waived for individuals or families who have loss of property or life associated with the wildfires: https://www.oregon.gov/…/Vital-Records-Fees-for-Oregonians-…

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MANUFACTURED HOME TITLE DOCUMENTS

Homeowners who lost title documents for manufactured homes in the fires can find info to replace them here: https://aca-oregon.accela.com/OR_MHODS/

Existing ownership documents are immediately available online, and can either be printed, or emailed to the email address on record, or emailed to another email address that can be added as needed. This can happen today for any existing ownership document. This is the fastest way for an individual to get their existing ownership documents.

FEMA runs the homeowner’s information through LexisNexis (an online data source) to find proof of ownership. If they don’t find it there, they will run it through the manufactured housing system that Oregon uses to register ownership. Accordingly, impacted manufactured homeowners don’t necessarily need to find the information themselves before applying. In a case where the information isn’t in either spot, FEMA will ask people if they can show a bill of sale, or any sort of document that helps prove ownership.

If an existing ownership document needs to be physically mailed to a customer, contact the state to get the document physically mailed to wherever you need it. Email: MHODS.BCD@Oregon.gov; or leave a message at: (503) 378-4530. You can also call the general number at (503) 378-4133 or toll free at 800-442-7457

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PROPERTY TAX

Property owners who have sustained damage or loss to their property as a result of recent fires in Jackson County may be eligible for a proration of the current year property taxes: https://jacksoncountyor.org/…/almeda-south-obenchain-greenw…

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SMALL BUSINESS SUPPORT

The Small Business Navigator for COVID has been updated to include wildfires:  https://www.oregon4biz.com/Coronavirus-Information/

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MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES

• Counseling services available at the Expo, 1 Peninger Road, Central Point

• Rogue Valley Emotional Wellness Hotline: 541-842-3643, M-F, 8AM – 4PM. Staffed by Medford School District and Family Solutions counselors. Spanish-speaking counselors available!

• Jackson County Mental Health: 541-774-8201; http://jacksoncountyor.org/hhs/Mental-Health

• Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 74174 or http://crisistextline.org

• Community Works 24-hour Helpline: 541-779-HELP

• National Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 66746

• National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

• Oregon Al-Anon and Alateen: http://www.oregonalanon.org/Districtpages/district7.html

• Senior Loneliness Helpline: 503-200-1633

• Military Helpline: 888-457-4838

• Youth Helpline: 877-968-8491

• Current Mental Health Providers in the Rogue Valley: http://www.mhren.org/pages/referral-booklet

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VOTING 

Information for Jackson County voters displaced by wildfires from Jackson County Elections Office:  https://jacksoncountyor.org/…/information-for-jackson-count…