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Ashland residents look for remnants of their lives before the Oak Knoll fire

Oak Knoll residents look for remnants of their lives before the fire
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David Moran, 24, finds pieces of a vase as he and his family search the ashes of his great-grandmother's house on Oak Knoll Drive. Bob Pennell / Daily TidingsBob Pennell
 Posted: 2:00 AM August 27, 2010

Running his hands through the ashes of what used to be his great-grandmother's bedroom — before the entire house burned in Tuesday's Oak Knoll fire — David Moran searched for bits of heirlooms.

Now and then, the Southern Oregon University student would pull out a blackened watch, necklace or photograph belonging to 88-year-old Lois Brewer, who lived at 881 Oak Knoll Drive.

"The shock's kind of over and it's setting in, and we're just trying to focus on the task at hand," said Moran, 24. "We're trying to find anything that's of value to my great-grandma."

Most of the items Moran and his family pulled out of the ashes Thursday were of nominal monetary value, but had a lot of personal value to Brewer, he said.

"I think she's going to be glad we've found something," said Mike Brewer, Lois Brewer's son.

Most of the items that survived were metal, but even some of those melted in the blaze, he said. The family used rakes, shovels and gloves to sift through the blackened remains of the house, as firefighters checked the area for safety hazards.

On Thursday morning, Ashland Fire & Rescue reopened Oak Knoll Drive and dozens of people could be seen walking and driving through the area to get a look at the destruction.

Belinda Whitman and her daughter, Katie, drove from Medford to see the damage on the south Ashland street.

"It's awful," Belinda Whitman said, as she stood in front of 851 Oak Knoll Drive. "You can't even tell they were houses — that's how hot it burned. The only things left are the chimneys."

Stephen Truelove, who lives about a block away from the burned homes, was taking photographs of the blackened lots Thursday.

"I'm getting pictures to show how close it came," he said. "It got so close to my home."

In the hours after the blaze began, Truelove, a music composition professor at SOU, said he didn't know whether his house, in the 700 block of Twin Pines Circle, had survived.

"We evacuated around 5 p.m.," he said. "I was eating dinner at a house on Park Street not knowing if my house had burned down or not.

"It was a very close call."

Truelove said he was stunned by the way the fire had leveled homes that, just three days earlier, had looked like his does now.

"To see something like this, where it's just totally gone, it's very shocking," he said.

Brewer said his family was getting over the initial shock of losing his mother's home.

"Yesterday, when we came here, it was like, 'Whoa,' because we were used to seeing it as her house," he said. "Today, the shock is pretty much over and we just see it as rubble."

Brewer was combing through the area where his mother's dresser used to be.

"She told us where the valuables would be," he said, "if they still existed."

Ironically, Brewer said, his mother's partner had asked him to check the smoke alarm in the house about two hours before the fire began Tuesday.

"I checked it and it was working," he said. "I wonder if it went off."

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

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