‘Heart-wrenching’: Searching for her father’s ashes in the charred remains of her home

When Marcie Barlow returned to what was left of her home for the first time, she had just one thing in mind.

Five weeks after her father died she wanted to find the urn containing his ashes.

In truth, it was a heartbreaking mission that looked futile: her house, like those of hundreds of her neighbours, was a pile of ashes itself.

By some quirk of nature, her garden table was barely touched
Image:By some quirk of nature, her garden table was barely touched

Marcie had made her way back to the house on Samuel Lane in Phoenix, Oregon even with the town still under an evacuation order.

The devastation in Phoenix, like that in the neighbouring town of Talent, is extensive.

It can appear freakish what survives an inferno like this: Marcie’s garden table suffered one small crack, everything else was destroyed.

One minute, she said, she feels like she is coping and then she remembers something lost. The family photos were the hardest thing to accept. “It’s all gone. There’s no getting it back.”

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“Heart wrenching” is how she described it.

“You look around and you know you’re not alone because there’s thousands of people going through the same devastation as you are.

“You’re in shock, you’re not functioning, and thinking. You think you are and then the grief overtakes you.”

Next to nothing remains of Marcie's home
Image:Next to nothing remains of Marcie’s home

She said it would be too hard for to rebuild on the peaceful cul-de-sac. This chapter of her life is over.

The fire happened on her son’s 23rd birthday – “What a day to remember,” she said – and she hopes his baby due in December will arrive in January. “I don’t want it to come into the world in 2020.”

Close to downtown Phoenix, Willow McCloud patrols the streets with a wheelbarrow of supplies for those, like her, who stayed as the fire raged and have remained hunkered down.

She watched homes and businesses around her burn. “It’s just too overwhelming,” she said.

“It has been a week now. That’s a long time to be scared in your house.

“I think we’re relieved but we’re really sad for our friends and our community and the people that still have houses standing we feel guilty.”

There is little left of the town of Phoenix, Oregon
Image:There is little left of the town of Phoenix, Oregon

The residents of Phoenix hope they will be allowed to return in the days to come. Many question how it will rise from the ashes.

The nervousness about looters is evident on the edge of the evacuation zone: “You loot, we shoot” reads a yard sign.

In this jumpy atmosphere, strangers are subjected to understandable scrutiny.

It hardly does it justice to call what has happened in Phoenix as unprecedented.

And there are a lot of raw emotions when catastrophe has come so close to home.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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