Kirt (Bunyan) Meyer lifts & carries a 623 lb. green log
OUT OF THE ASHES
by Dorothy Ainsworth
Log house on the hill
I got the dreadful call from my son, Eric, an hour after I'd gone to work
at 2 p.m. on June 29th, 1995. "Your house is on fire, Mom! I'm afraid it's a
goner. I was in the piano studio. It happened so fast, all I could do was call
the Fire Dept." His voice broke....
I ran out of the cafe, sped 3 miles home in my old pickup, and rounded
the bend just in time to witness the most horribly spectacular sight of my
life. The entire black skeleton of timbers and logs, engulfed by fluorescent
flames, stood out in bold relief against a backdrop of bright blue sky. The
metal roof panels were rising and falling as if waving goodbye. It seared into
my brain like a branding iron.
House almost finished
Interior before the fire
Dorothy in last window opening without glass
As I stood there in disbelief, watching my castle burn to the
ground...the log home I had painstakingly handcrafted for 6 years...it never
entered my mind that anything good could possibly come out of this tragedy.
"Nature is a hanging judge" I thought to myself. "One strike and you're out!"
A tiny linseed oil rag had transformed 6000 hours of hard labor into a huge
pile of charcoal briquettes in just two hours.
Although I was surrounded by firefighters and news reporters, I felt all
alone in my grief. Memories harkened back to the financial insecurity and
heavy responsibility I experienced years ago when I was virtually abandoned
with two young children to raise. I had learned to trust no one but myself.
House-burning photos by Denise Baratta/Ashland Daily Tidings
I sighed in silent resignation of the facts of reality and wondered if I
would be able to muster up the enthusiasm and money to start over. (My
insurance was nominal.)
Burned to the ground
Dorothy pets "Dottie" after the fire
Feeling like Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind, I sat down to
contemplate the ruins of Tara and pet the dogs. "I must rebuild, yes, I will
rebuild. I'll think about it tomorrow," I whispered to Gypsy, Dottie and Joe.
They wagged their tails in unison.
That was to be my darkest hour. Unbeknownst to me, the dawn would come
soon and bring sunny surprises. I had a lot to learn about the benevolent
nature of my fellowman and the art of accepting help.
First thing, Kirt (my devoted boyfriend) was truly there for me. He came
home from work to the shock of no home on the hill and was devastated. He shed
real tears and we comforted each other. Even though the house had been my
coveted project, together we had carried each of those 300 logs out of the
forest 6 years ago. A man light on words and heavy on action, he promised to
help me make it happen again, and I believed him.
Then before the coals had even cooled, editor Dave Duffy sent a
representative from Backwoods Home magazine to check on my welfare, and
asked permission to tell BWH readers of my fate. He hoped the notice would
generate positive responses from all over the U.S. (And it did!)
Next, my employer at the cafe where I waitressed called to tell me he
opened a donation account for me at Western Bank. The Ashland Daily
Tidings, and Sneak Preview of Ashland, and the Medford Mail
Tribune, all printed sympathetic stories about the disaster and mentioned
the donation fund. Each local T.V. station, in turn, interviewed me and
informed people of whom to contact if they wanted to help. District 5 Fire
Dept. said they'd clean up the mess and offered skilled help in rebuilding.
Copeland Lumber and Ashland Hardware volunteered special discounts on all
rebuilding materials and supplies.
Clean-up day after the fire
Kirt loads up the dumpster
The only wall left standing
Dorothy salvages the porthole frame
Out of the blue, I got a call from the nicest stranger I've ever
met: Christina Johnson, a young woman from Medford, who said she and her
husband Kerry wanted to help by organizing a clean-up crew and a music benefit
on my behalf. She said the Lutheran Brotherhood Church pledged to double
whatever money was raised by the music benefit concert.
Cleanup day was a huge success. Everyone showed up nice and clean, and
left hours later nice and dirty. Ashland Sanitary donated a huge dumpster for
the party and hauled away my whole former-house in one fell swoop. Businesses
around town sent food.
Daughter Cynthia & Dorothy
Benefit concert poster
The Out of the Ashes music benefit was a magical evening filled
with the spirit of love and empathy. Local musicians played and sang their
hearts out. Son Eric wound up the program with some impromptu humor followed
by a magnificent classical performance on the piano. My daughter Cynthia flew
up from L.A. to hold my hand and wipe my tears.
The spirit of helping one's fellow man was alive and well, here and
everywhere. Offers of help and gifts flooded in. Donations added up. Letters
filled with encouragement and contributions arrived daily for about three
months. Several prison inmates responded, egging me on to rebuild so that they
could keep their own hopes up for a new start. Even people at poverty level
put five dollars in an envelope and humbly apologized that it couldn't be
more. My heart was touched forever by the kindness and generosity that is out
Eric plays at concert
Cynthia comforts her mom
Ashland should be called "the little town that could...and
did!" Locals donated about $6000 to my rebuilding fund. BWH readers generously
contributed over $3000 to the cause. I've joyfully written at least 200 thank
you notes and now correspond with several new pen pals.
Kirt & Dorothy leveling house site
Kirt compacts soil for new footings
Kirt with compactor
Kirt cuts off burned piling
Kirt logging again for new house
With donations alone, I was able to put in a new concrete
foundation, build the floor, buy the supporting timbers I need, and secure all
The owner of Grizzly Bear Log Homes of Jacksonville, Oregon, pledged to
sell me all the logs for the house at his cost and deliver them to my site.
Kirt and I jumped for joy and danced a little jig at the prospect of being
able to build the same house without the gut-busting labor of carrying logs
out of the forest again. We enjoyed four months of ignorant bliss. Late in
September, the man informed us, for reasons beyond his control, he would be
unable to keep his promise. We groaned when we had to eat our words of
never again logging the hard way.
Kirt's method for putting logs on his shoulder
Cutting to length
Gassing up the saw
Cutting a tree that is off the ground
Standing a log up so it can be carried
Desperate to duplicate the original house, or have to go through the
entire permit process again, I was highly motivated to find a source nearby
for lodgepole pine. (The Forest Service has closed most of the public
cutting areas.) After a zealous search I found a man who owned timberland 20
miles away, and told him my story. He kindly agreed to let us take all the
logs we needed for the house off his land, provided we burn the slash piles
and thin trees along the irrigation canal.
Once again we jumped for joy and danced a little jig...in spite of
Kirt "Bunyan" Meyer singlehandedly felled the trees and
carried the huge and heavy logs to the truck, on his not genetically average
shoulders. This time around the logs were green and three times the weight of
dry (300-600 lbs.). Even though I'm an industrial-strength woman, I was
unable to lift my end of a single decent-sized log, so I happily demoted
myself to truck driver. I stood by, taking photos and worrying aloud about his
lower back and adjacent giblets.
200 lb Kirt with a 600 lb log
Kirt pushing against tremendous friction
"Queen of the Logs"
Getting ready to set the choker chain
"King of the Logs"
Another Goodwill fashion statement
A beautiful load
Unloading the logs
Kirt's unloading method
Without a scratch or bruise, Kirt managed to stockpile my
300 logs in just three weeks, finishing the job only minutes before the first
snowfall of the season. What a guy! I feel like the luckiest unlucky woman in
Modest Kirt gives in to Dorothy's plea for one topless photo
What a guy!
Kirt Meyer is my hero
Thank you, everyone!