Since 1973, 18 emergency declarations have been declared for Jackson County, mostly for fires

The 2018 Peninger Fire burns along Biddle Road in Central Point. Wildfires, drought, earthquakes and winter storms top the list of disasters facing Medford, according to a city disaster mitigation plan. [Mail Tribune / file photo]

Forest fires, drought, earthquakes and winter storms top the list of disasters that could devastate our valley.

Medford City Council on Thursday passed a five-year disaster mitigation plan that aims to prevent injuries, loss of life and damage to property and the environment from natural disasters.

A committee of officials from Medford and other organizations developed the plan and assessed the potential for disasters, along with recommendations.

“There are about 54 of them recommended by the group to help reduce our risk and make Medford and the region a little safer for us,” said Aaron Ott, the city’s emergency management coordinator.

One of the goals of the five-year plan is to increase the number of beds for the homeless to get them out of areas such as the Bear Creek Greenway, which are prone to fires. The city adopted its first five-year disaster plan in 2017.

Also, more effort will be put into cleaning up trash and other debris left behind by homeless camps.

In 2020, the Almeda fire, which started near the greenway, destroyed 2,500 residences, mainly in Talent and Phoenix.

The City plans to continue to reduce weeds on public property and in vacant lots, lanes and secondary roads. The city is also helping local residents reduce the risk of fire on their property.

Other efforts will include greater community outreach, including to Spanish speakers and seniors, greater coordination with other agencies, and the development of a wildfire protection plan.

Councilor Mike Zarosinski said he thought some of the proposals would be difficult to fund, and he questioned whether the plan would affect local insurance rates, citing a wildfire hazard map released earlier this year that some feared would result in higher insurance rates or denial of coverage.

The state eventually pulled the card after a public outcry, and a follow-up announcement from state insurance regulators said there was no evidence that insurance companies had used the card to change insurance policies. insurance rates or deny coverage.

Ott said, “This plan has no impact on insurance ratings.”

He said the city’s plan “opens the door to more funding from the state and federal levels.”

Topping the list of natural disasters that could strike the Medford area in any given year are wildfires, drought, a winter storm, or a Cascadia subduction earthquake, which could make the Interstate 5 impassable for weeks or months.

In the next tier of possible natural disasters are infectious diseases, poor air quality, extreme heat, and flooding.

Other potential disasters include a more localized earthquake, windstorm, volcano, and landslide.

After state review, the plan will be sent to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for adoption.

Oregon has had 94 federal disaster declarations since 1953, when the federal government began declaring them

Federal disaster declarations for Jackson County have included four for major rain or flood events in 1964, 1974, 1997, and 2006.

A major disaster declaration for the COVID-19 pandemic is underway.

In 2020, wildfires, including the Almeda fire, caused a declaration of disaster.

Oregon and local authorities have also declared disasters.

Since 1973, 18 emergency declarations have been declared for Jackson County, mostly for fires.

The smoke from the fires is another blow to the health of local residents and the economy.

Since 2010, the county has had an average of 15.8 days per year with unhealthy air.

The last five years have been the worst, with 2018 with 48 days in the unhealthy range followed by 2021 with 35 days.

The only years the air didn’t enter the unhealthy range were 2010 and 2016.

Contact freelance writer Damian Mann at [email protected]