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Utah Task Force 1 Oregon
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Utah Task Force 1 returns from Oregon fires: “they lost everything”

Derek Petersen | KSLTV

SALT LAKE CITY— Utah Task Force 1 went to Oregon prepared for the worst. They found it in terms of pure destruction, however, the people of Oregon are in good spirits. 

Utah Task Force 1 returned home Sunday night from Jackson County, Oregon.  They were tasked with “wide area searches” of the hard-hit areas including the cities of Medford, Talent, and Ashland.  Leader Wade Russell says that means “primary searches, structural assessments,” and grimly, “looking for remains.”

PROFOUND DEVASTATION

On KSL Newsradio’s Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry, Russell says the found devastation was “so profound, that it was like being on another planet.  I’ve never seen [anything] like it.” On their way there, Russell says the team was informed that 200 to 300 people were missing.  Thankfully, however, they found no remains in the rubble.  Russell says the evacuations in the areas they were searching were well-handled and everyone was able to get out of their homes. 

UTTF-1’s job is doing this kind of work after hurricanes and structural collapses. Russell says what they are not used to is engaging with people returning to their homes, surveying the damage, while they’re doing their job. He says they were gracious and thankful.

A WARM WELCOME, DESPITE NO WELCOME MAT

Russell says his team knows that people go through stages of grief.  They were prepared for people to “not want them to be there. They lost absolutely everything, and we felt we were the ones being taken care of by them.  [More] than us taking care of them.” 

Russell says they had quite a few really positive interactions. 

One, in particular, is a Senior Community.  Russell recalls to Lee, “[One of our crews] encountered an elderly man, sifting through the rubble of his own house.  He was distraught.”  After giving him some water, he told the men that his wife died two years ago.  “He didn’t care that he had lost everything, but he couldn’t find his wife’s ashes.  The crew dropped everything and looked for about an hour until they found the urn.” 

Russell says one of the crew told him this morning that they’ve been in contact with the man every day since.  “I think they are going to have a relationship with him going forward.  [It’s] a really, really neat thing.”

In general, Russell feels the people they met gave them a lot of comfort and reassurance.  He thinks that this was “kind of a closure thing for us.  A real positive note.”

Russell says his team of 80 all returned healthily.  “And [we’re] ready to help when we’re needed again.”