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After the fires: What they lost, then gained

Six months ago, many Asante employees’ lives were turned upside down. The second part of this series catches up with some of them.

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For many Asante employees affected by the wildfires that destroyed homes and lives six months ago, despair has given way to gratitude. Asante News shares some of their stories.

Fred Andrews and Betty Stevens with daughter Eleanor. Photo USA Today/Trevor Hughes

They couldn’t have done it alone

The Almeda fire on Sept. 8 not only destroyed the first home that Betty Stevens and her husband, Fred Andrews, ever bought, it also destroyed everything they owned, including their car. In the days that followed, Betty, who has spent her career as a respiratory care practitioner at ARRMC helping patients, would learn what it was like to be helped by others.

After losing their Phoenix townhouse, a story told in heartbreaking detail in USA Today, Betty and Fred stayed at the home of an ICU nurse for more than two months. They found an apartment in Eagle Point, thanks to a connection with a neonatologist at the hospital. They sleep on a bed donated by another physician while their baby daughter sleeps in a crib given by a nurse.

But it was the car that showed the depth of the generosity from Asante employees and, by extension, their families.

“The donation of a used Toyota family vehicle was by far the most overwhelming and emotional contribution toward our rebuilding and stability,” she said. “I still can’t believe there is such good in the world.”

She and Fred are rebuilding on their lot. The trees are gone, and with them some of the wildlife. For now, the neighbors who brought cookies at Christmas are gone, too. But the kindness shown by others continues.

“We are rebuilding with the help of our homeowners association and the donations from families, friends and people we perhaps have not met but are connected with us through our story.”

Sheri Croy, with contractor Kory Shrader, is rebuilding over the ashes of her former home in Phoenix.

Searching for a home, menagerie in tow

When Sheri Croy and her husband, Ronnie, were told to evacuate from their home in Phoenix’s Barnum subdivision, they didn’t have time to take the baby pictures, important documents, Sheri’s art supplies or Ronnie’s sports memorabilia. They barely had time to grab their dogs, Timber and Scout, and Mushu, their pet bearded dragon.

The pair was thrust into the immediate challenge of finding a place to live. The fire consumed more than 2,800 homes between Talent, Phoenix and Medford, forcing thousands of families to compete for scarce rentals. With two dogs and a lizard, the Croys’ housing search was even more daunting. A co-worker opened her North Medford home to Ronnie and Sheri, who manages community benefits for Asante Communications and Marketing, in the days after the fire. Then another colleague, out of town on family leave, invited the couple and their pets to stay at her home in Ashland until they found a long-term rental.

A month after the fire and the Croys’ countless hours scanning apartment listings on Craiglist, a Medford landlord offered to rent his furnished home, located just blocks from ARRMC. Pets allowed.

Despite the desperate search for housing and daunting paperwork that follows such a bitter loss, there were some sweet moments as well.

“The final night before the remainder of my house was to be bulldozed, my ex-husband and my brother-in-law made a last-ditch effort to try to find my mother’s wedding ring,” Sheri said. “Something about the dusk setting in and both of them kneeling with me in the ash and rubble, hand-sifting through every hit of the metal detector was just really, really special. We did not find my mom’s ring, but that doesn’t diminish the magnitude of that moment for me.”

The sympathy of strangers

Like so many affected by the fire, Sarah Johnson found a happy ending when she and Jeff found a “dream home” in the Applegate Valley.


Sarah Johnson and husband Jeff Haas.

Shortly after the fires, Sarah Johnson, a physical therapy assistant at Asante Outpatient Rehabilitation, was shopping for knitting supplies to replace some of what she lost when her home in Whispering Pines in south Medford burned down.

Replacing yarn was a minor inconvenience compared with the things that she’d never get back, like the children’s mementos and the family photographs. But that day was meaningful in its own way.

The cashier casually asked what she was making with the supplies. Sarah explained her situation. The cashier began to cry and said she would pay for Sarah’s purchase.

“I had cash and donated gift cards and was more than able to pay, but she insisted,” Sarah recalled. “It made me realize it was just as valuable to let those around us help and for us to accept help. There are not enough words to express how blessed we feel.”

Asante eased their way

Tania Pineda-Soria lost the mobile home she bought as a young adult after moving out of her parents’ house. It was where her daughter, Joy, took her first steps. It held Joy’s first baby blanket, a phone that stored her family photos, a dress that Joy had picked out to wear on her birthday. With housing prices out of reach, Tania, a CNA at Asante Rogue Regional, found the perfect temporary home for her small family: an RV in the temporary housing park Asante established to house displaced employees.

Tania Pineda-Soria, with fiance Nicolas and daughter Joy, found support and compassion from Asante.

The housing was one of many gestures of support Tanya received from Asante. Immediately after the fires, an employee with Human Resources let her know that Smullin Center had been converted to a donation site and was offering everything from household supplies to clothing.

“I mentioned that my daughter needed hair ties,” Tania said. “She told me they didn’t have any, but would work on it. Within hours, I got a call telling me they had hair ties for my daughter and we could pick them up with the rest of our donations.

“The best part of this,” Tania said, “was seeing how the community came together, how it united to help those in need.”

Luke and Nichole Andrea are also grateful for the gifts from Luke’s employer.

Nichole Andre, who works in AACH’s medical records department, lost her home in the Horizon Mobile Village in Phoenix — a pocket of destruction that leveled the park but spared the Jack in the Box. The fire took her and her husband’s passports, college transcripts and 1967 Ford Mustang. Far worse, her cat, DC, died in the fire, leaving the couple heartbroken.

They accepted the donations of food, clothing, shoes, bags, an alarm clock, pots and pans, bedding and gift cards, many donated by Asante employees. Asante Ashland Community Hospital “adopted” the family for Christmas, and Dr. Lee Milligan’s wife and daughter took her shopping for jeans and a night shirt.

“I still tear up over all the kindness,” she said. “My husband and I are so blessed to be part of the Asante family.”

Part one: Six months after the fires, where are they now?

RV Park Community Day

Help beautify the Asante RV Park housing employees displaced by last September’s wildfires. The volunteer event is coordinated by Andersen Construction, which will supply tools, PPE and lunch.

The event takes place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 24.

Projects include:

  • Installing privacy slats in the chain link fencing
  • Placing soil in newly built raised vegetable gardens
  • Planting vegetables
  • Installing access and perimeter lighting

The park is located on East Barnett Road and Golf View Drive in Medford.

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