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Special report: Toxic mold on the High Desert


Mold is everywhere, and with the right conditions, it can become harmful to humans and pets, even here on the dry High Desert.

Mold sporing conditions include great amounts of moisture. It is described as a black or green substance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have advice on identifying mold and some signs and symptoms to look out for.

“The common health concerns from molds include hay fever-like allergic symptoms. Certain individuals with chronic respiratory disease (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, asthma) may experience difficulty breathing. Individuals with immune suppression may be at increased risk for infection from molds. If you or your family members have these conditions, a qualified medical clinician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment. For the most part, one should take routine measures to prevent mold growth in the home.

– Centers For Disease Control and Prevention

NewsChannel 21 spoke recently with one man who says he was living in a black mold nightmare.

Jake Ferguson, California native, moved to 14776 Heartwood in La Pine in 2013. He says his rental home almost killed him He also alleges the homeowners knew about the mold and did not tell him.

“I’d like to see it burned to the ground, because that’s what you do with black mold, you burn it,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson said his symptoms began immediately when he moved in.

“The migraines set in right away,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson has an auto-immune disorder that makes him more susceptible to mold. He said he was getting skin rashes all over his body and sores on his feet from walking on the spores. He says his disorder is why these symptoms did not raise red flags for such a long time.

“When we leave the house, my breathing starts getting better. I start feeling better. My dogs start doing better,” Ferguson said.

The homeowners, Barbara and Wilbur Shell, briefly spoke with NewsChannel 21 on the phone. Their attorney did not want them to talk on camera.

They say there was no mold in the home when Ferguson moved in. In fact, they say Ferguson caused the mold outbreak, claiming he left in the winter without turning on the heat. They say a pipe broke and sprayed water everywhere, flooding the home for months.

Ferguson does not deny that a pipe broke. But he says, “I would have been in the house to maintain it if I wasn’t getting sick.”

Ferguson hired Mountain Air Indoors on Sept. 2 of this year to do a mold analysis of his rental home. Regardless of when the mold began, the test came back showing high and dangerous levels of mold in and around the home.

Ferguson also hired Torrey Richards from Oregon Home Check to inspect the structural integrity of the home. Richards did the work on Sept 2 as well.

“Frankly, it was the worst mold situation I’ve ever seen,” Richards said. “There was mold-like substance on everything — the fan blades, the wall, the floor, the entire underneath side of the home.”

Aside from saying it was disgusting, he also found structural issues with the roofing. He said vents on the roof were not sealed properly — specifically, one vent, right above the kitchen. He said in a heavy rain, water would pour into the walls.

“My girl and I heard water running throughout it like a river,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson is currently suing the Shells and the property manager, Central Oregon Realty, whose officials also did not want to appear on camera.

Deschutes County Circuit Court Judge Beth Bagley recently approved the defendants’ motion to withdraw. Ferguson now has until Nov. 4 to gather evidence to prove the negligence he claims — an answer that could come from a former tenant.

“When I left after getting my deposit, I told Lillian Jones, the rental agent, that this house has a mold problem and you need to get it fixed,” said Fred Coblentz, that former tenant.

Coblentz and his wife lived in this same house in 2012.

“I really had full intention of staying there,” Coblentz said.

He felled trees and painted the home, but then, he says, his wife started getting sick.

“My wife started coughing, sneezing, runny nose,” Coblentz said.

He says he found black mold near the washer and dryer. He says that he told Wilbur Shell about it, and Shell brushed him off. Coblentz called the health department, and they advised him to buy a mold test kit. Coblentz did.

“In seven days, it was showing black mold. He (Shell) didn’t seem to be really interested. It was more like, ‘Oh, it will go away,'” Coblentz said.

Ferguson says it never did.

“I want my life back on track, and you took it from me, and you could have warned me about the mold,” Ferguson said he’d tell Shell.

This case will be going back to court next Wednesday.

For more information on toxic mold:

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