Ashland residents who lost their homes in the Oak Knoll fire expressed shock and sadness at news John Thiry was found not guilty by a Jackson County Circuit Court judge Friday.
Judge Lorenzo Mejia said Thiry likely did start the Aug. 24 fire that burned 11 homes. But he said prosecutors had not proven Thiry was aware of the risks, a condition that would have to be met for Thiry to be considered guilty of recklessness.
Thiry had been charged with 10 counts of recklessly endangering another and 14 counts of reckless burning.
"The fact is I am upset that he got nothing and was found not guilty," said Rick Ogier, who lost his home in the fire. "I'm a little bit disturbed by that because he did start the fire and 11 of us did lose our homes.
"Now what am I going to tell my 9-year-old daughter?" he said. "Now he's back there, living under the bridge?"
The fire victims said they wanted to see Thiry get help, because they fear a repeat of this summer's fire, Ashland's worst residential fire in at least a century.
"I think I personally and most of my neighbors just wanted to see John Thiry get help," said Liza Christian, who lost her home in the blaze and attended Thiry's trial.
"I don't have any resentment towards him," Christian said. "He didn't intend to burn my house down or create problems for me."
Dan Thomas, who also lost his home in the fire, said he was surprised by Friday's news.
"How could he not be guilty?" he said. "I'm a little shocked that he's not even guilty of these lesser charges, these misdemeanors."
None of the homeowners expected to receive restitution in the case, Christian said, but some had hoped the trial would bring closure.
"I think it's a sad day," she said. "I really had hoped that he would be put in jail for a while so he could get some help.
"Part of the closure for many of us, and I know for myself, would have been to have the opportunity to speak to him — not in a vindictive way, but to let him know how his actions affected us. I wanted to engage his heart and say, 'Don't do this again.'"
Hannah Guzik is a reporter with the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 541-482-3456, ext. 226, or firstname.lastname@example.org.