A Pastor, a School Bus and a Trip Through a Scorched Oregon Town

We kept walking, past the barber shop, the Judo academy and Puck’s Donuts — all destroyed. Across from the skeleton of La Tapatia restaurant, Stephen Martin’s apartment complex seemed untouched. Mr. Martin, a 52-year-old warehouse coordinator for Harry & David, moved to Phoenix 16 years ago because of the cheap rent. He paid $500 a month for a one-bedroom apartment on the town’s main drag, where many of his favorite businesses were now rubble. Still, he planned to stick around to see what was next. “Maybe it’s going to be far better,” he said.

Eventually we entered the adjacent town of Talent, and came to a clearing that overlooked a hollowed-out subdivision. Mr. Gregory pulled over.

We looked in somber silence for a moment. Below, two people rummaged by a hole where a home used to be.

Daniel Verner was searching for the box that held the ashes of his late wife. She had died of cancer 11 months earlier, a tragedy that led him to leave Ashland for a new home in Talent. Now his wife’s Honda Accord was melted to the pavement out front, and he could not find her ashes.

Mr. Verner, 74, is a painter and musician, specializing in portraits and traditional folk music from around the world. He plays 15 instruments, and was angry with himself for grabbing only two when the police told him to flee. “I got my Greek bouzouki and my Irish bouzouki, but I didn’t get my Russian balalaika or my Turkish oud,” he said.

He was shaken up by the scene. “There’s still some part of my psyche that just goes into not believing,” he said. “I wish I would have grabbed some more. A few more.”

He was with Cherie Grubbs, 64, a retired nurse and his next door neighbor. She was searching the rubble for mementos of her son, who was murdered in 2011, such as his guitar or Mother’s Day cards. Instead, she salvaged a lantern that her father had used as a signaler for the railroad, but not much else.


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