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Umpqua Rivers deemed at risk for toxic algae

Douglas County’s main waterways are on a preliminary list created by the Oregon Health Authority that highlights toxic algae-prone water systems within the state.

Nearly 40 percent of the 41 water systems listed by the state agency are in the county.

The initial list was made in response to toxic blue-green algae found in treated water from Detroit Lake near Salem, according to OHA spokesman Jonathan Modie.

On Wednesday, OHA re-issued a health advisory for Detroit Lake because of the harmful bacteria. The drinking advisory is for women who are pregnant or nursing, kids under 6-years-old, those with compromised immune systems and those with kidney and liver issues.

“In Salem’s case that was really the first time we’ve seen cyanotoxins make it into the finished water,” Modie said.

The Salem advisory has caused many businesses to stop using the tap water, instead opting for bottled water or even ordering expensive filtration systems.

Cyanotoxins are toxins created by blue-green algae. The toxins can cause a variety of symptoms, including numbness, tingling and dizziness, that can lead to difficulty breathing or heart problems, according to the health authority.

The toxins aren’t absorbed through the skin, but those with skin sensitivities may experience a puffy, red rash if they touch it.

Modie said the preliminary list of water systems will likely more than double.

Right now, 16 of Douglas County’s water systems are considered at risk. A majority of sites listed are on the South and North Umpqua River.

In creating the list, Modie said his organization looked at what bodies of surface water have had algae issues in the past.

“We looked at that list and then we said ‘Well, which of these do water systems pull water from?’” Modie said.

There are roughly 300 water systems in Oregon that pull from surface water sources.

In the coming weeks, Modie said OHA is looking at creating rules that would require risk-prone water systems in the state to test the water for cyanotoxins and report the results.

“Ultimately, there will be an emergency rule that will become a permanent rule,” Modie said.

He said the goal of the rules is to prevent another situation like what happened in Salem.

Rebecca Hillwig, a natural resource specialist with OHA, said when the South Umpqua River recedes it leaves behind pools that can heat up and create an environment for the bacteria to multiply.

After several dog deaths in 2009, the health agency implemented a permanent health advisory at the Lawson Bar on the South Umpqua River due to toxic pools, according to Hillwig.

Dogs are highly susceptible to the toxins and can die if they drink water out of an area that contains a bloom.

Hillwig said ingestion is the main way people are exposed, so activities like swimming can exacerbate vulnerability.

“We recommend that people don’t swim in areas near a bloom,” Hillwig said.

While blue-green algae bears the name of the filamentous organism, Hillwig said it’s as far from algae as it could be.

The blue-green variety is like “globs of gelatinous stuff floating around,” Hillwig said.

Blue-green algae blooms can also look foamy, scummy or like a thick green paint on the water.

The toxins contained inside can’t be killed by boiling or with water filters, Hillwig said.

“If you’re backpacking, you definitely want to go to an area where the water does look clear,” she said.

Modie said there is blue-green algae in most inland bodies of water, but it’s when the conditions are right that toxic blooms happen.

“It’s important to remember there are cyanobacteria in all lakes and rivers,” Modie said, “It’s just when the conditions are right they come together to create these blooms.”

The at-risk water systems in Douglas County include: Roseburg, Glide, Tokatee Village, Umpqua Basin Water Association, Tiller Ranger Station, Tiller Elementary, Milo Academy, Canyonville, Riddle, Lawson Acres Water Association, Tri-City, Myrtle Creek, Clarks Branch Water Association, Roseburg Forest Products, Winston Dillard Water District and Roberts Creek Water District.

Timm steps down as Roseburg Fire Chief

After 30 years with the Roseburg Fire Department, Fire Chief Gregg Timm is retiring.

Sporting spiked gray hair and a wide, bright smile, Timm looks much younger than his 53 years.

“I’ve seen the fire department grow over the 30 years to a point in time where I feel pretty comfortable that the organization is on a good path for success,” Timm said.

Timm was promoted to chief in 2014 and served as assistant chief the four years prior to that.

In 1984, he started at Clackamas Community College, where he received his associate degree in fire science. He also interned with several fire departments, including Clackamas County Fire District 54 and the Lake Oswego Fire Department.

Once he graduated, Timm said he applied everywhere, and one of the first places he got a job offer was in Roseburg.

In becoming a firefighter, Timm broke three generations of tradition. His grandfather, father and brother all went into law enforcement.

He acknowledged that police work is tough, and the situations they deal with don’t always come out positive.

“As a firefighter, most things are positive. You get called on a person’s worst moment and moment of need and you’re able to come out and provide assistance and make their day happier most of the time,” Timm said, “Unfortunately, police don’t always get the happiness at the end.”

But it isn’t all happiness.

“I’ve seen a lot of things that people aren’t supposed to see, but you do what you are trained to do and you do the best you can,” Timm said.

In the beginning of his career, Timm said he was callous to some of the trauma he experienced.

“After 30 years at the fire service I can tell you that I am very emotional now, I cry much easier,” Timm said, “Watching a Disney movie with your grandkids I can find myself finding a tearful moment, which has never been something that I’ve done.”

He thinks the shift comes from years of repressing emotional trauma and baggage.

Timm equates the fire service to a bookshelf, where each call adds another book to the shelf.

“It’s another book on the shelf and you try to rationalize it, but some people can’t get too many books on their bookshelf,” Timm said.

The fire service has changed a lot since Timm started, and he said it’s now putting a lot more effort into not only the muscles of the body but the mental part of the firefighting profession.

When asked what he sees as the issues facing the department, Timm said, “It’s always going to come back to response times and service levels.

“The increased call volume is starting to tax our system,” he said. “Our calls have consistently gone up year after year and I think in the near future you’re going to have to look to provide a broader service model or enhance this one.”

Right now, Timm said firefighters are taking in information from dispatch and triaging calls.

“It’s tough for them to always get, because we don’t always get all of the data,” Timm said.

He said he thinks a prioritization system — which would categorize the higher priority calls — would help alleviate that issue.

Timm describes his successor, Gary Garrisi, as a people person.

“The first time I met him we had a pretty quick click to a bond,” Timm said.

He said they think a lot alike on multiple levels, to the point where they can finish each other’s sentences.

“I think he’ll put his personal touch to lead the organization in a great direction,” Timm said.

Timm said his next challenge will be finding a place to park in his motorhome while he travels with his wife Stephanie.

“We’re probably going to chase the National Park list,” he said, adding that their first stop will most likely be Mount Rushmore.

They have plans to do some mountain biking and what Timm called “soft hiking” along the way.

“It should be great. It should be phenomenal,” he said.

Oakland festival fights for safety

The Oakland Rural Fire District reached a compromise proposal with Oakland Economic Development over street closures for future festivals during a contentious meeting Wednesday night.

Under the proposal, future festivals will be required to set aside designated space on city streets to allow access for emergency vehicles. The 20-foot easement will be blocked off by soft barricades at both ends and marked by cones along the street.

Ray Funk, the husband of Economic Development Vice President Shelly Funk, wrote the new proposal after members of the group objected to a recommendation by the Oakland Rural Fire District in March. Under the original recommendation, plastic road construction fencing would have been used to designate the easement.

Under the new plan, the soft barricades at both ends of the street would be supervised by trained fire watch/crowd managers. The barricades would prevent civilian vehicles from entering the festival area but are removable in case of emergency.

“We tried to put together a comprehensive plan that would be applicable for multiple years to come,” Ray Funk said.

Shelly Funk wanted to make sure people could safely be in city streets.

“I’m just pleased that we actually get to do something in Oakland now on a safe level,” Shelly Funk said. “I’m excited, but I’m reserved. We’ve been here before. I have a lack of trust of the Oakland Fire Department.”

In the meeting, Shelly Funk said she was frustrated with her attempts to get Oakland Fire Chief Bill Stearns to meet with their organization and listen to their plan.

Shelly Funk argued in the meeting that the easement with hard barricades was not a street closure at all. She said the board “shot down” early applications for street closures so no one ever applied.

Oakland Rural Fire Board Chairman Melvin Thornton wanted a city representative to be at the meeting, he said more than once Wednesday. Others reminded him that the fire chief and the Oakland City Council still needed to approve Wednesday’s recommendation.

Thornton questioned the car show’s safety before it was made clear the economic development organization was not involved.

“I have no idea how or why that went through the city,” Thornton said. “Obviously what’s good for one should be good for all. As a fire department, we do our job, and that’s if there is a fire or emergency.”

Ray Funk and Economic Development Treasurer Doug Foust claimed that most, if not all other cities in Oregon allow street closures for festivals. Foust claimed that Stearns was not direct with their organization.

“I had to pin him down on the process,” Foust said. “I’m nervous that even with the process, he’s going to get squirrelly.”

Stearns, reached Friday at his Oakland business, redirected request for comment to his fire department voicemail.

The City of Oakland requires approval from public works, the Sutherlin police chief and the fire chief before considering event applications. Once Stearns signs the application, the Oakland Economic Development organization will take the application to the city for their first event, the Sip n’ Stroll in November.

Fatal crash claims the life of Dillard resident and boy

A 68-year-old Dillard woman and a boy died after a car crash near Highway 138 that police believe occurred Wednesday afternoon.

Around noon on Thursday, Oregon State Police and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office deputies found a 2005 Mercury Sable that had hit a tree near the Apple Creek campground and was partially in the North Umpqua River.

Both the driver, Sandra Mincher, and the juvenile passenger, whose identity and age were not released by police, died as a result of their injuries.

Police believe the pair crashed at approximately 4 p.m. Wednesday, almost three hours after they were last seen leaving the Klamath Falls area. By 9 p.m., the duo were reported overdue.

Highway 138 has been the site of several fatal accidents in the past.

In February, a Glide man died after his pickup rolled and he was ejected from the car just outside of Glide.

Last July, a Roseburg woman died after her car hit a power pole and ejected her in between Roseburg and Glide.

The month before that, two 91-year-olds died after their car crashed into boulders and landed in the North Umpqua River.