No homes for holidays

Scraping snow from the foundation of one of the homes he's rebuilding on Oak Knoll Drive Thursday, Dan Thomas grabbed a beam that would become part of the floor and handed it to his son, Corey.

Beneath the snow stood ash from the home that was destroyed there four months earlier in the Oak Knoll fire, Ashland's worst residential fire in at least a century.

Crews are working through the winter to rebuild most of the 11 homes burned in the August fire as quickly as possible.

"The weather is an issue," Dan Thomas said Thursday. "We had to scrape snow this morning, but right now it's nice out."

Thomas, who owns Circle T Construction, is rebuilding his own home that burned in the fire, as well as a neighbor's home — seven lots down the block — with the help of Kurt Nicholson, owner of Peyton Construction Inc.

"Right now we're working to get this house up to where our house is at, with the roof on," Thomas said. "After that happens, I'll be able to breathe a little easier."

Corey Thomas, 21, who is spending his winter break from the University of Portland in Ashland, volunteered to help his father install the floor of Rick Ogier's home at 835 Oak Knoll Thursday. Last week, he and his brother, Brady, 17, a senior at Ashland High School, installed windows in their family's home at 897 Oak Knoll Drive.

"It was weird to come back, because the neighborhood that was unchanged during the six years I lived here was all of the sudden flat," Corey Thomas said.

"It feels great to be out here working and helping someone else get their house back," he said. "I told my dad that school has made me soft, because my arms are already tired from carrying this wood, and I've only been out here about an hour."

Construction has started on all but one of the lots that burned in the 800 block of Oak Knoll Drive. Skeletons of houses have been rising on the block since November.

Late last month, the Thomas' installed a roof on their home. One other home on the burned side of the block has a roof and windows so far. Crews could be seen working on at least two other lots Thursday, and lumber and machinery waited on several other properties.

Dan Thomas expects to begin erecting the walls of the Ogier family home in two weeks, after a plumber has installed the water and sewer pipes. He hopes to have a roof on the house by the end of January.

"The Ogiers will come back from their vacation in Hawaii and be able to see their house coming together," he said.

Although stormy weather could slow the building process, Thomas plans to continue working through the winter, he said.

"If you want to get your house built fast, you have to work regardless of the season," he said.

There are some parts of the construction, such as the insulation, that won't be completed in the winter because it's too wet out, Thomas said.

The holiday season was difficult for many of the fire victims, but the Thomases are eager to enter the new year, he said.

"A lot of our neighbors, like us, didn't go anywhere for the holidays, because we feel like we're already displaced," Thomas said. "We said, 'We can't go anywhere else.' "

The single-story house at 897 Oak Knoll Drive that burned in the fire held 10 years of memories for the Thomas family.

"It's still difficult sometimes," Thomas said. "It'll be nice to get our house back and it'll be nice to give our neighbor's their house back."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or

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