Family describes fire that destroyed home


Family describes fire that destroyed home

8:32 p.m. PST November 27, 2015

Ron and Jean Comstock were relaxing with friends and family Thanksgiving afternoon, waiting for their bellies to make room for dessert.

The 24 people were cozy in the living room, sitting and visiting after the holiday festivities.

Suddenly, the lights went out.

Former Portland General Electric worker Ron, 65, went to the control panel to fix the problem. But when he flipped the switch on, it kept switching off again.

Then, one of his daughters saw red cinders and they realized there was a fire.

As there was no clear indication of fire — the alarms didn’t go off and there was no visible smoke — the family evacuated the house without realizing the severity of the situation.

“We all left (the house) thinking the fire department would come, put it out, and we would go have pie,” said Barb Hoffman, Ron’s sister.

Many of them left car keys, cell phones, purses and shoes inside, anticipating a quick return.

It wasn’t until about a half hour later, when they saw the roof engulfed in flames, that they realized they wouldn’t be going back in.

“It’s such a helpless feeling to just sit and watch,” Hoffman said.

When attempting to make access to the crawl space, Ron accidentally hit his head and got a cut on his left eyebrow. Otherwise, everyone was able to get out safely.

The home, which Hoffman described as Ron’s “dream home,” is on the 6200 block of Rambeau Lane SE just east of Salem. After the fire, it was declared a total loss.

The four-bedroom, four-bath house is about 4,129 square feet and has an estimated value on of $630,464.

Marion County Fire District #1 said the fire was reported at 4:46 p.m. It was discovered in the rear of the home, but by the time the first responders arrived, the fire had moved into the attic.

“It was already out of sight, out of mind when we found it,” Ron said.

The MCFD said a lack of fire hydrants in the rural area led crews to call for additional units. At one point, 40 fire personnel were on the scene.

Fire officials said the fire was caused by an unattended turkey smoker on the back porch.

Though trusting the fire marshal’s final verdict, some members of the family speculated whether the turkey smoker was the only contributing factor.

Marion County was assisted by fire crews from Turner, Aumsville, Sublimity, Stayton and Silverton. Marion County sheriff’s office and public works were also on scene.

Since the house has been declared a total loss, the Comstocks are deciding whether to level it and build a slightly smaller home, or sell the property and move.

“We wanted to downsize, so it would be just like we moved,” Jean said.

She said she wasn’t wearing shoes when she left the house and barely managed to get her purse.

Ron and Jean have lived in the house for about 10 years, having designed and built it themselves. They both grew up in Oregon and have three daughters, all in their 30s.

The couple said their neighbors were extremely generous and helpful. One neighbor played movies and shows for the children, one invited the family in, and others gave them hats, mittens, scarves, shoes and blankets to keep warm.

They said that while this was a horrible situation, there was much to be thankful for.

Not only were they able to get everyone and their cars out, all of their hard copy records in their filing cabinets were saved, along with their passports, the hard drive of their computer, an heirloom ring of their daughter’s and more. Their safe, containing other important documents, was saved as well.

Ron’s trailer and one of his daughter’s wedding rings was lost to the fire.

Hoffman said, “Memories you get to keep.” Two of their daughters were married in the backyard.

Though Ron and Jean have insurance, one of their daughters and her husband were staying with them for a short period and lost many of their belongings and clothes.

“The most important thing is that the kids got out,” Ron said. “There are always things to be thankful for, but it is still (hard) to lose your dream.”, (503) 399-6745, or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate

**David Davis contributed to this story with the original report

Published by Natalie Pate

Natalie Pate is a freelance journalist and author based in Salem, Oregon. She wrote about education for more than seven years at the Statesman Journal and now covers education and other topics throughout the Pacific Northwest. She is originally from Colorado and earned her B.A. in Politics and French from Willamette University.

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