'A neighborhood again'

The frames of seven houses now stand on Oak Knoll Drive just seven months after Ashland's worst fire in at least a century ripped through the street, destroying 11 homes.

"It's becoming a neighborhood again," said Dan Thomas, who is rebuilding his home and a neighbor's that burned in the fire. "No one talks about the fire anymore."

Seven houses are in various states of completion on the block. Gary Pederson has already moved into his completed home and is the first to occupy the west side of the block since the Aug. 24 fire.

On two other lots, foundations are being laid for homes. The final two lots remain vacant and one of them is for sale. Liza Christian is selling her lot at 843 Oak Knoll Drive for undisclosed reasons. She's asking $125,000 for the lot, discounted from the $172,000 assessed value, because of the fire.

Christian, who plans to stay in the area, said she hopes someone will build on her lot soon, so the entire block can be rebuilt.

"It's good to see the life on the street again, and the new houses going up," she said. "Everybody's gone through a lot to get new houses."

Thomas is working to install flooring, cabinetry and woodwork over the next few weeks. He, his wife, Julie, and their son and daughter hope to move in by Easter, April 24, exactly eight months after the fire.

"I can get pretty choked up thinking about it," said Julie Thomas. "It will be resurrection Sunday, which symbolizes a new start."

Dan Thomas expects 75 percent of homeowners on the block will be moved in to their new houses by the end of the summer.

"A lot of people haven't been home for seven months," he said. "It's going to be nice to have people here."

Landscaping and other finishing touches might not be completed for awhile, depending on weather conditions, he said.

The Thomas family will host an open house on May 1 for the community to see their new home and the changes on the block.

"We'll have lived in it for a week and we'd like anybody who wants to see it to come over," Dan Thomas said. "A lot of people have helped us out, and we'd like to give back by having them over."

By that time, the Thomases hope one of their trees in the front yard that survived the fire may be blooming.

"I'm holding my breath," Julie Thomas said. "They're traumatized, but they made it."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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