When he got up to mow his grass early Saturday morning, Harold Terry was pleased to see the air wasn’t as smoky as the night before.
It didn’t take long for Azalea, where Terry has a cattle ranch, to be shrouded in smoke from the Milepost 97 Fire burning on the west side of Interstate 5 between Canyonville and Azalea.
The fire grew to 9,000 acres overnight Friday, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry. It’s currently the largest fire in the Pacific Northwest. An ODF incident management team took command of the fire from local fire districts on Friday. About 900 firefighters, 15 helicopters and multiple large and small-engine air tankers were assigned to the fire Saturday.
Air quality south of the fire ranged from “moderate” in Medford to “very unhealthy” in Grants Pass, according to the federal Air Quality Index. Air quality was considered “good” in areas north of the fire.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office issued residents on the west side of I-5 between mileposts 83 and 88 a Level 1 “Be Ready” evacuation notice Friday night. By 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, the Sheriff’s Office elevated the notice to Level 2 “Set,” meaning residents should be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
Residents and friends in the area spent the day Saturday readying homes and livestock for the possibility that the growing fire would reach their doorsteps.
High temperatures and winds, low humidity and difficult firefighting terrain with limited road access have hindered fire suppression efforts since it began Wednesday.
A firefighter told Terry the fire was about 2 miles from his house on Saturday morning.
“The driveway and the porches are just covered with ash from last night,” said Terry, whose ranch sits in the middle of the evacuation warning area. “I’ve never experienced anything like that before. It gives you a weird feeling when you’re picking out a few things that are your mementos, and chances are you’re not going to leave, but if you did, that’s the last you’re ever going to see it. It affected us.”
Terry said a neighbor with the Douglas Forest Protective Association told him his property was well-prepared for the fire, with open spaces, not many large trees and irrigation.
About 10 a.m., a helicopter started taking water out of an irrigation pond in Terry’s backyard to fight the fire. It made trips every five to 10 minutes.
“If it saves something — we can do without irrigation,” he said. “Somebody can’t do without their home or buildings or life.”
While he was optimistic about his home and cattle coming out of the fire unscathed, he admitted it’s frightening to have to pack important documents, his son’s Future Farmer’s of America awards and other irreplaceable items. He admitted anything could happen.
“After Paradise and some of that, you just don’t know,” Terry said, referring to last year’s Camp Fire, which destroyed Paradise, California and killed 85 people.
Deputy Fire Marshal Mike Shaw, with the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office, met with several firefighters assigned to the Milepost 97 Fire and others from local fire districts outside the Azalea Community Church to discuss structure preparation in the area.
“We’re helping the local fire districts with assessing their homes, how many they have out there, clearances, stuff like that,” Shaw said.
Meanwhile, a fire hand crew with Medford-based 3 B’s Forestry Inc. worked to clear out brush and other fire fuels in the woods above Fortune Branch Road, where there are multiple houses in the evacuation warning area.
About 15 firefighters chainsawed saplings and dead logs, dragging them out of a ditch near the road. Ash floated down while the orange sun was obscured by thick smoke.
“It’s a little personal,” said firefighter Chuck Watson, of Canyonville. “For a lot of us here, we just love the job and doing a service for the community, but when it’s our own community, it’s that much more personal. We grew up in these lands, we hunt these lands, we hike them, so we want to keep them pretty, but fire is a natural process.”
Filling her car with gas at a gas station in Quines Creek, Bella Gibson said she’s planning to become a licensed Emergency Medical Technician to work with the Azalea Rural Fire Protection District.
She’s from Australia and moved to the area recently to live with her husband and his family, who are from Azalea. She said these are the smokiest conditions she’s ever experienced.
“It’s gotten my nerves pumping,” Gibson said.
She said she’s also earning her pilot’s license because she wants to be able to fly helicopters and fight fires such as the Milepost 97 Fire.
Gibson and her in-laws in Azalea are all ready to evacuate, she said. They’re landlords, and she said they were checking in on tenants Saturday morning to make sure everyone was prepared for the fire.
“I love this community. That’s all I can say.”
Gibson headed to the 29th Annual Back to the 50’s Celebration in Grants Pass after she left the gas station.
Former Roseburg attorney Sean Handlery was disbarred from the Oregon State Bar after allegations that he sexually assaulted a minor, coerced a client to lie and not did not prepare for a restraining order hearing surfaced during his disciplinary board trial last March, court documents show.
After complaints were filed against Handlery, he did not answer the Oregon State Bar Disciplinary Board — which resulted in the suspension of his license to practice law during the investigation, said Kateri Walsh, Oregon State Bar public relations manager.
“There are multiple steps in the process, the accused has the right to some due-process steps. It can take some time to move through some of the formal proceedings,” Walsh said.
After the evidence was presented to the disciplinary board, Handlery was disbarred — meaning he permanently lost his ability to practice law, Walsh said.
“Typically, we present our formal charges and then there is a trial panel hearing before a three-person panel. However, I know that Mr. Handlery did not cooperate in these proceedings so the trial panel made its decision by default, because he did not participate,” Walsh said. “By that, the allegations are presumed, he’s presumed guilty of violating the ethics rules.”
Four incidents were considered when conducting the disciplinary trial, Oregon State Bar Bulletin reported in June.
The first matter included allegations that Handlery raped and sexually assaulted a minor in 2015 and 2016. He was charged with a dozen counts each of rape, sex abuse and sodomy of an underage girl, according to Oregon State Bar Bulletin. The case closed last March after Handlery plead guilty to seven charges of sexual abuse and five charges of rape.
He was sentenced to about eight years in prison, $750 in restitution and court-ordered sex offender registration, said Ian Ross, deputy Douglas County district attorney.
The disciplinary board also looked into an incident where Handlery did not prepare for a domestic relations restraining order hearing. When he was presented with evidence he did not expect, he coerced his client to lie about a fact of the case, Oregon State Bar Bulletin reported.
In a third incident, Handlery did not pass along information about how much his client was to pay in cost bills for a settlement. Opposing counsel filed an affidavit of noncompliance because their client was never paid. Handlery objected to the affidavit and the night before the subsequent hearing, he found the email containing the information. He reportedly told his client he would not open the email and claim to have never received it.
A fourth incident showed Handlery agreed to represent a client in an employment claim despite having no background knowledge in that area. He did not educate himself on what he needed to prove or how to best represent his client, Oregon State Bar Bulletin reported.
In order for an attorney to be disbarred, a complaint against the attorney must be filed, Walsh said. Then the Oregon State Bar will evaluate the claims and determine if an investigation is needed. If so, the bar will conduct the investigation and look into the claims, Walsh said.
Handlery was disbarred for his conduct on four separate matters, which include a lack of competence, neglect, failure to correct a false statement made to a tribunal, counsel a witness to testify falsely, failure to respond to a disciplinary authority, criminal conduct reflecting adversely on fitness to practice law, according to the Oregon State Bar Bulletin.
“The opinion is the opinion of the disciplinary board, which is appointed by the Oregon Supreme Court. Then the Oregon Supreme Court takes the final action based on this trial disciplinary board opinion in permanently disbarring Mr. Handlery,” Walsh said.