Image credit The Mail Tribune
In 2020, the Almeda fires devastated Jackson County over Labor Day weekend. In the early morning of September 8, 2020, the Almeda fire swept through the Rogue Valley and through areas of Ashland and Medford, and destroyed most of Talent and Phoenix. The fire demolished more than 2,600 homes in Southern Oregon and many are still recovering from the damage. This fire was the most destructive fire in Oregon’s history
While many are still recovering and picking up the pieces from the damage caused by the fire, a Michigan artist, Robert Barnum, has taken it upon himself to create a statue in memoriam of the fire titled “Firestorm.” This statue is 20 feet tall and cost around $75,000 to make, and is still in the process of being produced. The statue depicts four human figures memorializing the four people who died in the fire, and behind them a dark brown cube of metal that has pieces cut out to resemble flame. At night, the flames will light up, mimicking the fire. Some have said that the design looks like something from the Burning Man festival in Nevada, and it has gathered significant backlash from locals.
The artist, Robert Barnum, attended Southern Oregon University and Oregon College of Art, which is why he has a connection with the region affected by the fire. His brother, Sam Barnum, is the Medford Building Safety Director and has approved this project. Barnum stated that “the idea behind the art piece was to honor fire victims as well as raise awareness about the effect of wildfires.”
The city of Medford, who previously donated $33,750 towards the funding of this project, has now pulled their donations due to the statue causing controversy among Jackson County. Many complain about the design, size, and location of the statue, as Sam Barnum previously stated the statue could be seen from Interstate 5 from its location in downtown Medford. While those concerns were voiced by locals over social media, the biggest and loudest complaint was that of the effect it would have on the residents of Rogue Valley, specifically those who lost their homes in the fires.
The erection of this statue may be considered a memorial for the people who died and a lesson of how destructive fire can be, but a resounding opinion is that this sculpture could also serve as a constant reminder to those who survived the fire and lost their homes. Due to the nature of the sculpture, as well as its depiction of burning victims, those affected directly by the Alameda fire have expressed concern over the imagery’s potential to retraumatize the community.
A petition has been started to completely stop the production of this statue and already has over 1,500 signatures. This petition, which has been linked below, is the reason behind the halting of the statues production and is also a major point behind why the city of Medford pulled the funding from the project. This controversial statue would cost a lot of money that could go elsewhere, maybe helping the people whose homes were destroyed in the Almeda fires.
Here is the link to the petition.
The Siskiyou interviewed a couple of students on their thoughts pertaining to the statue in Medford. Sophomore Kelsey Geck says “if none of the money that is being donated to the statue is going towards helping the people affected by the fire, then there really isn’t a point in building a statue.” Sophomore Ashley Rad states that “at the moment the statue is a waste of money and time, in the future maybe a plaque in memory of the four people who died, but not until the community has healed from the effects of the fire.”