GARDINER — The now-vacant site of the former International Paper mill north of Reedsport is seeing new activity to help wildfire victims.
The trailers moving onto the property aren’t lasting long there: The Federal Emergency Management Agency is using the site for staging temporary housing trailers headed for the victims of the summer’s devastating wildfires in Lane County and the Medford area.
“They’ll probably be there for at least six months,” said Paul Corah, a FEMA spokesperson.
Trailers move in and out regularly, Corah said — in a “logistical circus,” the agency moves trailers from other parts of the country to respond to disasters.
Once at the Gardiner site, the trailers wait until the lots they’ll end up in are ready to hold them. Oftentimes, that means extending the sewer and water lines and entrance paths in pre-existing trailer parks.
“That’s what takes us so long,” Corah said.
Around 250 families have qualified for the housing, and Corah said about 80 trailers are still yet to be delivered to families in the Medford area, and around a dozen will be headed to Lane County. Some could go straight to their destinations while others wait at the Gardiner lot.
Families who’ll be living in the one- to three-bedroom trailers have been living in hotel rooms provided by the agency since historic wildfires in September destroyed the cities of Talent and Phoenix as well as other regions across the state.
In all, the fires burned over a million acres and destroyed over 4,000 homes across the state, according to the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.
Temporary housing trailers were originally being staged at the Jackson County Fairgrounds before that county began using that site for something else, Corah said. For the past couple weeks since then, round-the-clock security and a few temporary office buildings have been overseeing the trailers moving through the old mill site.
Corah said the federal government is leasing the property from its private owner.
The site’s been largely empty since 2006, when the International Paper mill that closed in 1998 was demolished. It was purchased by Tacoma-based Industrial Harbor USA, LLC, in 2016 with big plans to bring in new tenants to the 427-acre lot.
The property is still owned by Industrial Harbor, according to Douglas County property records.
Rumors have circulated on social media about why security guards, trailers and other deliveries had begun appearing on the property.
“We’ve heard everything,” Corah said.
But the purpose is far less sinister than many of those rumors would suggest, with the property now playing a small role in Oregon’s recovery from the most devastating fire season on record.