PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — It’s been a year since the Almeda Fire consumed more than 2,600 structures in the small cities of Talent and Phoenix in Southwest Oregon.
Despite the destruction, the resilient towns are coming back, and residents say they’re excited to see new construction.
“It’s kind of inspiring again to see all the homes coming up with what was a warzone,” said Charlie Hamilton, owner of Suncrest Homes in Talent.
So far, Hamilton’s construction company has completed five homes. They have 17 more under construction and about eight more they plan to build in the future.
Hamilton says the work has been “a little insane,” but he’s glad he can help his community mend.
“The people we have working with us are just committed and doing everything they can. They’re working weekends. They’re staying late. They’re bringing in lamps, so they can work when they start. So everybody’s giving 120% to kind of get through this crisis,” he said.
Hamilton has been working with Energy Trust of Oregon to build homes that are more energy efficient and also more resilient to future fires.
Scott Leonard, a manager with the new construction program at Energy Trust of Oregon, says sometimes features that make a home more energy efficient also make them more fire resilient. For example, he said sealing attic vents properly can help prevent embers from flying in, putting a barrier of rigid insulation on the outside of the home can serve as a non-flammable barrier, and installing triple-pane windows can also protect a home from extreme heat.
“We wanted to try to find a crosswalk between energy efficiency and fire resilience, and we looked across an entire home to say, ‘What are the features that would benefit from both of those things?’” Leonard explained.
Energy Trust of Oregon is offering financial incentives for people who build their new homes to meet certain energy efficiency requirements. The non-profit has more information about incentives on its website.
Hamilton has been working with Energy Trust of Oregon to build more energy-efficient homes. He says the non-profit gives good guidance on how to build homes that are more “green” and efficient.
Hamilton says through the building process, he’s trying to inform residents on the importance of landscaping. He said if homeowners think about how close their houses are to trees and shrubs and how well maintained their yards are, they could also better protect their homes from fire.
“We can deal with the non-flammable siding, the non-flammable roofs, but making sure that you don’t have the bark coming in and the trees to ignite so the defensible space is huge,” he said.
The labor shortage has put a strain on Hamilton’s construction business. He said it’s been difficult to find enough sub-contractors and the ones in the area have been pulled in multiple directions by several different businesses. He said he’s also had a hard time finding parts at times.
Still, even with the challenges, he said the work has been rewarding and he’s glad to see his city rising from the ashes.
“It’s absolutely been the highlight of my career, to be able to work with these folks to help them through… a very dark period in their life,” Hamilton said. “It’s been unbelievably rewarding to help people get back in their homes.”