July 31, 2023 | Rebecca Scott for Travel Phoenix Oregon

The Almeda Fire devastated the communities of Phoenix and Talent. 

It destroyed houses, businesses and parks, and displaced many people. During the midst of a pandemic and in an area already lacking in affordable housing, the fire transformed the landscape of Phoenix, Talent and the Rogue Valley.

However, all was not lost.

Hope was born anew through the birth of different organizations, such as Firebrand Resiliency Collective (FRC), which helps communities recover from and prepare for natural disasters. 

Building a firewise community

After the fire, FRC worked with the community and individuals to discover what recovery resources they needed, according to Tucker Teutsch III, who is the executive director of FRC. 

They soon learned that many people didn’t know what proper disaster preparation was. To overcome this challenge, Teutsch said the FRC staff helps individuals and rural communities learn how to be firewise.

“There are many ways to prepare for natural disasters and wildfires, like having an evacuation plan and removing dead plants and leaves,” he added. 

During their first two years, FRC worked with survivors and didn’t come out publicly as an organization until September 2022. Until that time, a large portion of the community wasn’t aware of their mission and work. 

During the past year, FRC has shared their message with more people and increased their community presence.

Today, FRC has about a dozen employees and three main programs: Zone Captains, the Loss & Recovery Project and Ready NOW (Neighborhoods Organized for Wildfire).

The Almeda Fire Zone Captains is a survivor-led support program which offers a range of services, from weekly social connection, to resource navigation and much more. 

“Our Zone Captains work closely with individuals and families to connect them with the resources they need to rebuild their lives,” said Teutsch.

Since 2021, the program has served more than 700 survivors.

The Loss & Recovery Project is a mapping and community engagement effort that uses geospatial information systems (GIS) to visualize real-time community data, creating

a more collaborative and transparent relationship between the public, private and nonprofit sectors. 

Ready NOW launched in 2023 with the goal of assisting at-risk communities to be better

prepared for disasters. The program combines community organizing frameworks, wildfire education and resource navigation to engage rural and urban neighborhood leaders and watershed communities in Jackson and Josephine counties.

While each program is unique, they all help individuals and communities prepare for future disasters or emergencies. 

Creating hope from tragedy

In the beginning, FRC set up in a parking lot and was known as “Remake Talent”. 

Born and raised in Talent, Teutsch clearly recalls the devastating impact of the Almeda fire. 

“Talent was my hometown,” he said. “Our group wanted to be a voice for the fire survivors, and then help them through the recovery process.”

As FRC grew, they had to search for a new homebase. Teutsch said they eventually found an empty space on the south end of 312 Main Street by The Oregon Cheese Cave.

After they received funding from the Red Cross, FRC secured the space and have been there for over a year. 

“It’s great to call Phoenix home. We are really connected to the community.”

Recovery and renewal

Teutsch believes the people and businesses in Phoenix and Talent have the opportunity to transform after the fire. 

“We also want to learn about what the businesses need so we could advocate for them, too,” he said.

FRC does this by hosting bus tours with the Rogue Valley Transportation Department, where they take people through the town and highlight local successes in the community. 

Since its inception, FRC has supported community solutions for long-term recovery, resilience and preparedness. They remain steadfast in their mission to help individuals and the community at large.

Photo Credit: FRC Facebook page