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Detroit wildfire victim begins long road to recovery

'I don’t even know how to describe it. You can’t breathe.'

DETROIT, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Many wildfire evacuees are now embarking on the long road to recovery, journeying back home to see what, if anything, remains. Evacuee Jody Evans spoke to NewsChannel 21 in Detroit Friday about that long road ahead, having lost her home to the Lionshead Fire.

The city of Detroit, for decades a popular outdoors destination, is now a place of devastation as many residents are left with little to salvage.

“It’s crushing -- it’s just sad," Evans said. "I think sad. I don’t even know how to describe it. You can’t breathe.”

Emotions took Evans’ breath away as she rummaged through the remains of her home and her life.

Having only lived in her Detroit home for just under year, she was finally putting the finishing touches on it: "The end of the project, putting the numbers up, getting ready for winter.”

Friday marked the second time Evans made the trip back to Detroit since she was evacuated to the Deschutes County Fairgrounds nearly a month ago.

Now, she is temporarily staying in a RV home in Albany.

Unfortunately, everything she owned at her Detroit home is gone.

On Friday, Evans came back to place markers, in preparation for trucks to come take away the wreckage that now leaves her with only memories.

Through the remains of her home, she pointed out signs of her photo albums. “There’s melted ones, right there -- see the picture frames right there?"

One of the many reasons Evans bought land and built her home in Detroit was because of the wonderful trees that surrounded her property. She said they created a beautiful awning. Now, those same trees are burned and marked for removal as potential hazards.

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman said Lauren Wirtis said right now, the focus is on removing hazardous waste and debris, since it's becoming unsafe.

“It's really stuff like paint and propane tanks, and fertilizer, that when it gets burned it becomes this hazardous material, and it becomes difficult to breathe in and easier to be exposed to," Wirtis explained.

Detroit and the lake that shared its name has been known as a great destination for camping and boating. But if the waste isn’t removed soon, chemicals from the debris could ruin this special piece of Oregon.

“The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, in partnership with Oregon Health Authority, has done some initial sampling for contaminants related to the wildfires along the Santiam River," Wirtis said. "They are in the process of evaluating those samples now.”

Even though removing hazardous waste is the DEQ's top priority, Evans has other things on her mind, overwhelmed by the emotional and physical loss.

“Stuff is stuff. You escaped with your life," Evans said. "That is the bottom line. But there are some things in that house that can never be replaced.  Not ever."

Evans told NewsChannel 21 she's not yet sure what her future holds, but she's heard that some of her neighbors will not rebuild.

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Arielle Brumfield

Arielle Brumfield is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Arielle here.


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