Investigation continues in cause of Almeda & South Obenchain fires

SOUTHERN OREGON, Ore. – According to the ODF, the cause of the South Obenchain fire is still under investigation.

It burned more than $30,000 acres and destroyed dozens of structures in the Eagle Point-Shady Cove area.

But, we don’t know much more today than we knew over two years ago.

“There were lots of little challenges and events and it caused problems all through south county,” Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler said.

“This incredible, intense scene I‘ve never experienced before and I hope to never experience again,” Ashland Police chief Tighe O‘Meara said.

The Almeda Fire started in north Ashland in the late morning of September 8, 2020

The fire then spread north along the Bear Creek Greenway into Talent and then Phoenix.

It was finally stopped on the outskirts of south Medford.

The fire destroyed nearly 2,500 structures, damaged 134 more and claimed three lives.

“Obviously we want to stop the fire but thinking there were opportunities to stop it and not anticipating just this wall of fire moving at the speed it was and 2200 degrees,” Sickler said.

“Almeda was kind of a sprint,” student firefighter Jesse Vermillion said. “Like what do we need to do lets get this done?”

According to Jackson County’s ‘after action report’ released in summer 2021, the causes of both of the fires on September 8, 2020, the Almeda and South Obenchain fires are still under investigation.

Local law enforcement later said the Almeda was human caused, but no information was released beyond that, despite multiple agencies calling it the largest criminal investigation in Jackson County history.

In the fall of 2021, O‘Meara¬†gave an update on the investigation.

“We’ve engaged 18 outside law enforcement agencies from four different states to help with the investigation, we’ve interviewed hundreds of people and unfortunately we have not identified a suspect,” he said.

Ashland police and JCSO said 29 investigators from several agencies have served 9 search warrants and interviewed 154 people, spanning eight counties, in four different states, in the Almeda Fire investigation.

Despite all that, local residents don’t seem any closer to closure, after the devastating fire.

It’s unknown when we’ll get an update on the criminal investigation.

But one thing is certain, September 8, 2020 changed the Rogue Valley forever.

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NBC5 News reporter Zachary Larsen grew up in Surprise, Arizona. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. At ASU, Zack interned at Arizona Sports 98.7FM and Softball America. During his Junior year, Zack joined the ASU Sports Bureau. He covered the Fiesta Bowl, the Phoenix Open and major basketball tournaments. Zack enjoys working out, creative writing, music, and rooting for his ASU Sun Devils.
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