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Returning to a 'war zone': Locals head back to what remains of their homes

Linda Jones took some comfort when she found her mother’s wedding ring and a few other objects among the rubble of her Phoenix apartment Sunday.

“My daughter said, ‘Have you cried?’” said the 80-year-old, who had lived there for three years. “I told her there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Jones and other residents of Northridge Terrace took some cheer from the sparkling clear air Sunday, which lay bare miles of burned out houses and melted cars from the Almeda fire that raced from Ashland almost to Medford. An estimated 2,357 houses have been lost.

Looking a little bewildered at the devastation, Jones said she lost the military service records for her husband, who died 20 years ago, along with videos of her children.

She thought she’d lost her mother’s ring a second time until one of her relatives told her that she’d put it in a metal basket. She decided to keep the ring on her pinky for safekeeping.

Jones showed off a clay duck, that somehow survived the intense blaze.

Seven adjoining apartments had burned down around her home in the midst of hundreds of apartments just to the east of Highway 99.

Jones, who is living with her daughter, and others displaced by the fire have been reaching out to various organizations including the Federal Emergency Management to help them as they try to rebuild their lives.

The fire cut through one of the biggest affordable housing areas in the valley, and many were concerned that it could be years before they can get situated in a permanent dwelling.

“I’ve been here three years, but I’ve lived in the area all my life,” Jones said.

Her sister, who is deaf, lives across the street and she also got burned out.

Jones and her grandson, Eric Calzado, both said the area looked like a “war zone.”

The housing complex had been off limits since the fire started, but Highway 99 was just reopened over the weekend, giving residents the chance to look for anything that might have survived.

“People are trying to find things that have sentimental value,” said Calzado of Medford.

He said his grandmother evacuated with hardly anything, expecting the fire would be put out before her apartment was damaged.

Pointing to the location where his grandmother’s house sat, he said, “It was so hot, look at that front door.” The metal door was buckled and lying horizontally on the ground.

Across the street, Brody Roberts and his mother surveyed the damage to Roberts’s girlfriend’s house, which she paid $120,000 for as her first home in August 2019.

“Look at the fireproof safe that we had all of our important papers inside,” 20-year-old Roberts said. “Everything inside is ash.”

The couple had recently bought new appliances, which were also destroyed, the washer and dryer still standing but now buckled and charred.

His girlfriend, 25-year-old Ashlee Salisbury, had been excited to have her first house, but Roberts said he’s not sure how long it might take to rebuild. The house was attached to seven other houses, which were all gone.

“We only had the stuff that was on our shoulders when the fire broke out,” Roberts said.

The couple were both at work, so they weren’t able to retrieve anything from their house.

Roberts said he’s found his insurance company surprisingly helpful, and the couple have already received some money to help them deal with their hardships.

He said he had a new Honda Accord that was parked nearby and actually survived the fire with only a little damage around the rear window.

His mother Karen Roberts, was excited to find a jewelry box in the debris, only to find ash inside.

“It makes me so sad because this is where people came who were just starting out in life,” she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.

Linda Jones, a resident of Northridge Terrace, holds a clay duck Sunday that survived the blaze that raised her home in the Almeda fire. (Damian Mann / Mail Tribune)