Deadly Alameda Fire Still Inspires Smoke Alarm Installations in Jackson County.

Colleen Hathaway/Red Cross Cascades Region

On the morning of September 8, 2020, Steve Ward got up as usual and drove his truck to work at the local Micro-Trains factory in Talent, Oregon. It is a company with roots dating back to the 1940s that manufactures and distributes model train equipment and accessories.  He thought to himself as he drove how windy it was; he’d never seen it so windy.  Not long after arriving at work, he and his coworkers saw a helicopter dip into the pond near them. Dip ponds are located near areas at high risk for wildfires; helicopters take up the water and dump giant buckets of water down to douse the flames.  

The Micro-Trains workers quickly realized a wildfire had started and began bailing.  Steve drove as fast as he could to get back to Phoenix and then pick up his grandkids, who lived in a nearby trailer park.  He also gathered up the few things he had time to, including some papers and a laptop.  He recalled, “It was a beautiful day other than that it was windy.  Then all of a sudden, this firestorm comes sweeping through.”

Indeed, in a matter of hours, forty mile per hour winds helped fuel the Almeda Drive Fire, the most destructive fire at that time in Oregon’s recorded history. The fire destroyed more than 2,600 homes between Ashland, Talent, Phoenix and Medford.  Steve drove to his brother’s house in Medford, after navigating the “madhouse” of traffic as other residents were also fleeing. He worried that the house he had bought only a year before was gone. 

Luckily, his house and even his workplace was spared, but the nearby trailer park where his grandkids and other families had lived was not.  “They lost everything,” he said.  Upon reflecting on the impact of the fire, Steve said,  “I’m just glad… everybody’s safe. And that’s all that mattered.”

Recently, the Red Cross installed several smoke alarms in Steve’s home for free as part of their Sound the Alarm and Home Fire Campaign

The installation took about ten minutes and Steve says he feels safer and sleeps better at night knowing he’s got some protection.  It’s part of a broader preparation and defense system that includes clearing brush around his home, especially during the hot, dry months. 

The Red Cross also helped him to review plans for escape routes and meeting places for family members and neighbors. 

In this community, neighbors look out for one another.  Steve recently noticed a strange truck in his neighbor’s yard and called them to make sure it was somebody they knew. It turned out it was, but the neighbor said, “I’m glad you called, though.”

The Red Cross will be installing FREE smoke alarms as part of their Sound The Alarm campaign in April. Events include White City, Albany, Salem and Kelso. To sign up for a home visit and smoke alarm installation, please visit

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