Rebuilding a life

Stirring up clouds of black ash, Dan Thomas used an excavator Friday to demolish the remains of his home — burned in last month's Oak Knoll fire — and prepare to rebuild.

The single-story house at 897 Oak Knoll Drive held 10 years of memories for the Thomas family, and watching the charred walls fall was difficult, he said. "I've done a lot of house building and some demolition, but it's a little weird to be tearing my own walls down," said Thomas, who owns Circle T Construction Inc. "There are memories in these walls that we are tearing down."

Thomas will haul away the remains of the home, where his wife and their youngest child lived, in a dump truck next week. On Friday, he drove the excavator over pieces of wood, windows and light fixtures, crushing the rubble into pieces.

"Today's the beginning of the process," he said. "We want to get this demolition done so we can move forward. I want to get this cleaned up so I can see the ground, then I'll be able to say, 'OK, let's start over.'"

In the coming days, he will draw up plans to rebuild the home, secure city building permits and begin construction. He plans to rebuild the home himself, using money from his insurance company.

Thomas plans to build a virtually identical house to the one that burned, changing the layout of certain rooms slightly to stay within the amount he believes his insurance company will provide.

Thomas hopes to have the house's frame and roof built within the next six weeks, before the winter rains begin. Then, he'll be able to work on the interior of the home throughout the winter, he said.

"That's why it's sort of urgent to get going on it," he said. "I don't want to be out here working in the middle of winter."

Thomas plans to finish construction by early next summer. "We want to move back in," he said. "This is our home."

Dan and Julie Thomas' three children all spent several years in the home, the older two, Brianna and Corey, moving out to attend college. Their youngest child, Brady, 17, is a senior at Ashland High School.

Other Oak Knoll Drive residents whose homes were destroyed in the fire are also starting the demolition and rebuilding process. Construction signs and equipment rest on about half of the 11 burned lots.

Thomas said it was encouraging to see others working on the burned lots.

"We're looking forward to when all these places are cleaned up and we can all start over again," he said. "It's been kind of like a ghost town over here, so it's good to see people working."

Before the homes can be demolished, they must be tested for asbestos. The Thomas' home contained asbestos, and it's likely most of the other homes on the block did as well, since they were constructed at about the same time, Thomas said. Asbestos must be cleaned up before any rebuilding work can begin.

An asbestos cleanup crew spent several days last week on the Thomas' lot and hauled away four Dumpster loads of contaminated material, including carpeting and couches. Most of the asbestos was contained in the "popcorn" ceiling of the home, but it fell onto the items below when the house burned, Thomas said.

Brianna Thomas, 24, recently moved back to Ashland, from Seattle, and has been helping her parents keep track of the rebuilding details. Before the Aug. 24 fire, she had planned to move back into her family's home on Oak Knoll Drive. Now she's living with them in their Ashland rental home.

"I'd been thinking of moving home, and then the house burned down," she said. "It's very overwhelming. But, I'm glad they have a rental place. And home is really where the people are, where my family is."

Julie Thomas, an Ashland School District receptionist, stopped by the home on her lunch break to take photos of the demolition process.

"When I first drove up, I didn't even recognize it," she said. "It's kind of shocking to look in and see the home where we spent 10 years being demolished. It's ending something."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or

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