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About Appeal tribune. (Silverton, Or.) 1999-current | View Entire Issue (July 28, 2021)
WEDNESDAY, JULY 28, 2021
Continued from Page 1A
from 10-year-old twins in Aumsville, mild
enough to use on Angie's burns.
One person created a colored pencil
drawing of Wyatt and Duke, with his grand-
ma and great-grandma and a bright, shining
star behind them. They're all smiling and
waving. The artist successfully captured fa-
cial features and postures. It'll hang some-
where in the house once Angie has it
"It was because of all these people that
we survived," she said. "These people made
sure we lived after this."
'Still seems like a dream'
Angie has a way of masking the physical
and emotional pain, welcoming visitors and
a chance to dote on them. She's always been
a natural caregiver. She ﬁlled that role for her
mom for several years.
Chris wears his heart on his sleeve and
tends to be more withdrawn.
While part of them still feels like they
have nothing to look forward to and no rea-
son to live, another part believes they sur-
vived for a reason, although they may never
Some days, they manage only to go
through the motions, eating, sleeping, wak-
ing up the next morning, and doing it all over
again. Other days, they muster the strength
to act like their old selves when family and
Holidays, birthdays and other momen-
tous occasions bring setbacks. Last month,
they attended what would have been Wy-
att's eighth-grade graduation at Scio Middle
His name was called during the ceremo-
ny, and a moment of silence was observed.
The school announced a memorial garden
in his name will be installed on campus, and
each of his 20-some classmates was given a
pine seedling to plant in Wyatt's memory.
The tribute meant the world to Angie and
Chris, but seeing their son's classmates and
the heartbreak in their eyes was almost too
much to bear.
"It's hard to ﬁgure out how to mourn,"
Chris said. "We still haven't done it."
Wyatt was their only child together. Part
of them is gone forever.
"It still seems like a dream," Angie said.
"Like we just haven’t woken up yet," Chris
said. "It would have made more sense that
'I don't have a lot of regrets'
Angie and Chris were together 10 years
before welcoming their pride and joy into
Wyatt Payton Tofte was born Feb. 13,
2007, at Salem Hospital.
They lived on the outskirts of Jeﬀerson at
the time, in a house next door to Angie's
mom and grandma.
Wyatt was an easy-going child. He
looked like Chris and had Angie's personal-
ity. He was smart and loved animals. He had
a great sense of humor and loved to play
He and his dad used to go for drives, lis-
tening to music and looking for adventure.
Chris would introduce him to bands from
his era, such as the Beastie Boys.
When Wyatt's baseball team needed a
coach, Angie volunteered. It didn't matter
that she barely knew how to throw a ball.
She was a protective mom but could
push the limits and have fun, too — like the
time she took young Wyatt and a friend on a
roller coaster ride on a backcountry road.
The boys had a blast, and Angie told them
the ride would be their little secret. Wyatt's
friend didn’t tell his mom until just a few
Wyatt was mature for his age — some
might say an old soul — and he had a tender
"He was very compassionate about other
people, always wanting to make people
comfortable," his mom said.
He and his mom had a special bond that
deepened during commutes to and from
school. Even after moving to North Fork
Road in 2018, Angie and Chris kept Wyatt
enrolled in Scio School District, where he'd
been with the same group of friends since
The 20-minute drive each way gave
them time to discuss a variety of topics,
He once asked his mom's opinion about
breaking up with his ﬁrst girlfriend. Texting
was his plan, but he didn't want to hurt her
feelings. His mom urged him to do it in per-
son and not before school, so the girl
wouldn't be sad all day.
The breakup went smoothly. Wyatt and
the girl remained friends, and their friends
didn't have to take sides.
"Who gets to have that?" Angie said.
"The one girlfriend he has, and it went like a
Reminiscing about special moments like
that makes Angie smile through the tears.
"We did everything that we could do as a
family," she said. "We didn't have a lot of
money, but we'd always go hiking, we'd al-
ways go do something. I don't have a lot of
regrets. Of course, I want more time. But the
time that we had, we made a good go of it."
They had gone hiking to lure Wyatt away
from his video games the day before the
wildﬁre blew up. They drove up the hill a
ways, then hiked to the highest peak to
check on the ﬁre.
"It was so far away," Angie said.
Escaping through a tunnel of ﬁre
If they had known historic winds that La-
bor Day night were going to whip the ﬁre
Reading all the cards and letters sent from people around the world has been uplifting for Angela Mosso. COURTESY OF THE
into a frenzy, they would have evacuated
earlier. Like others who lost so much, Angie
and Chris have gone over all the what-ifs.
They've each saddled the blame.
But once Angie learned details about the
raging ﬁre and heard how neighbors nar-
rowly escaped, she knew it wasn't her fault.
"I knew I did the best I could," she said.
That doesn't make it hurt any less.
Tears turn to sobs when she recounts the
struggle to evacuate her son, her mom, a dog
and three cats as ﬂames closed in on the
"It doesn't make it any worse for me to tell
the details," she said. "It's not like total thera-
py for me, but it's not making it worse for
Duke, a 200-pound bullmastiﬀ mix,
woke her up at about 1 a.m., and she discov-
ered ﬁre surrounding the house. Chris still
wasn't home from a friend's house, where
he had gone to borrow a trailer for them to
load up belongings Angie had gathered on
She knew the ﬁre was bad, but still
thought they had time to get out. The cars
were gassed and ready to go. They were
about a 10-minute drive from Lyons and a
30-minute drive from Salem.
She woke up Wyatt ﬁrst and had him
gather the cats. Then she woke up her mom,
who had recently fallen and broken her leg
and was scheduled for surgery in a few days.
They started to load up in her mom's
Oldsmobile, which was parked in front, but
no one could ﬁnd the keys. Their next option
was a Honda Civic, which was blocked by a
four-wheeler and a wheelbarrow full of
something. They managed to ram through it
At some point, the Honda stopped, and it
became clear they wouldn't be able to drive
out. They didn't even make it down the
driveway to the main road.
Some people have wondered why they
didn't just run to the river, the Little North
Fork of the Santiam, but Angie didn't see
that as an option. It was about a mile away,
and access would have been steep and dan-
gerous. Plus, they were surrounded by ﬁre.
Towering Douglas ﬁr trees were going up
in ﬂames like kindling, and the ﬁre was
spreading from treetop to treetop.
North Fork Road, a narrow, winding road
ﬂanked by forest, became a tunnel of ﬁre.
Nearly all of the homes on both sides were
destroyed. The other three people who died
in the canyon that night also died in that
'I love you, Mom'
Angie made a split-second decision and
told Wyatt and Duke to run for it.
She knew her son could handle it, or she
would never have sent him on his own.
"He was so responsible and so grown up,
that's why I had him go ahead of me," she
said. "I couldn't not try to help my mom and
Before he left, he turned to her and said,
"I love you, Mom."
She repeated the words to him, and then
Everything happened in a matter of min-
utes. No one was screaming or crying.
"We were going very fast, but there was a
calmness and peacefulness," she said. "I
can’t imagine if it was the other way. Actu-
ally, it probably should have been the other
For months, friends were scared to ask
"I was picturing it very diﬀerent," Moore
said. "How could you not?"
The ﬁrewall pushed Angie further away
from the house and the car. She ultimately
knew if she wanted to survive, she had to
leave her mom behind. Peggy was unable to
walk out on her own with a broken leg.
Angie never saw Wyatt return to the car,
although she wasn't surprised to later learn
that he had. He was close to his grandma,
"He couldn't leave her. He had to go
back," she said. "I think he thought, 'I have
the knowledge to have a chance at saving
her. Maybe I can get that car out.' "
Wyatt's dad had taught him how to use a
clutch and stick shift just a few weeks be-
When Chris later went back to the prop-
erty, he saw the car had been moved from
where Angie had left it — not far, but it had
been moved. There were drag marks from
the wheels, where the tires had melted
"He tried, I could tell," Chris said.
3 miles through 'lava'
Angie got out by walking barefoot nearly
three miles on the blazing hot asphalt. The
rubber sliders she'd slipped on when she got
out of bed melted away the moment she
stepped out of the house into what she de-
scribed as lava.
She knew her only chance was to stay on
the pavement, which acted as a barrier to
the ﬂames in the forested areas on either
side. She tried wrapping the clothes she was
wearing around her feet, ﬁrst her T-shirt and
then her pajama pants.
She doesn't remember being in pain, just
exhausted. The pain would come later.
She wanted to rest but knew she was
running out of time. The ﬁre seemed to be
chasing her. Burning embers rained down
on her, and she'd been whacked a few times
by falling tree branches.
"I wasn't giving up, I just felt I couldn't go
anymore," Angie said.
Around that time, she came across a
man who was trying to ﬁnd his way out, too.
They couldn't see each other through the
smoke-ﬁlled darkness, but they could hear
Neither had a phone. Both promised to
send help if they made it out.
"It gave me an extra burst of energy
knowing there was extra hope," said Angie,
by then down to just her underwear.
What seemed like only seconds later, she
fell. She felt so weak and tired, she couldn't
get up. She thought she was dying.
"I'm not exaggerating," Angie said. "I felt
my eyes closing for the last time."
All of a sudden, she saw a bright, white
"Not like my tunnel to heaven light," she
said. "But I didn't know what it was."
She saw the silhouette of someone walk-
ing toward her. She instantly knew it was
Chris. She recognized his posture.
He didn't recognize her with her hair
singed and her mouth almost black.
Chris had blown past the blockade and
saved not just her, but the man whose voice
had given Angie hope. Chris picked him up
on the way out.
They later met Scott Torgeson, a retired
Keizer elementary school teacher, in the
room across the hall at the burn center.
The burns, recovery
Angie was taken ﬁrst to Salem Hospital,
then to the burn center in Portland. She had
third-degree burns on 21% of her body, the
most severe on her back and feet.
Her body was weak, and the risk of in-
fection was high. Doctors worried she could
have a heart attack or stroke because of the
stress on her body.
"They made it sound like she didn't have
a good chance," Chris said.
If she survived, doctors told Chris she
may never walk again. The news didn't
come as a total shock after what he saw
when he found her on the side of North Fork
"I could see inside her ankles, all the
muscles, tendons, cartilage and bone," he
Surgery wasn't an option on her feet be-
cause there wasn't enough skin left to work
with. Antibiotic ointments and bandages
were applied, and they hoped for the best.
Skin grafts for the burns on her back and
shoulders were done using skin taken from
In a few days, she was able to sit up in
bed. A few days later, she was sitting in a
All Chris wanted to do was crawl in bed
with her and snuggle, or at least give her a
hug. But she was in too much pain. For the
longest time, they could only touch ﬁnger-
Angie never knew something could hurt
"When a doctor asks me what my pain
level is, I don't think I'll ever say a 10," she
said. "I know what a 10 is now. I'd say a 3 or a
She fought to be released sooner than
doctors recommended because she was
worried about Chris. He was torn up about
Wyatt's death and almost losing her, and be-
ing around a hospital always made him anx-
Angie ate 6,000 calories a day, in addi-
tion to what she got through a feeding tube,
to help her body heal and regenerate faster.
She felt they needed to be together, and
she wasn't intimidated by the wound care
and dressing changes. She'd been a caregiv-
er for years and was conﬁdent Chris could
assist when needed.
"It was going to hurt whether they did it
or I did it," she said she thought at the time.
"I might as well go home and try to save us."
Caring for burns is labor-intensive. They
have to be protected and moisturized. Early
on, she had to apply ointment every hour
and a half. Now, it's down to four times a day.
That's the only time she takes oﬀ the
compression garment, other than to shower.
She'll have to wear it for up to two years. It
not only oﬀers protection but helps the scars
heal, smoothing the rippling skin of burns.
Unable to move on, yet
Angie's ﬁrst thought when she was re-
leased last October, a month to the day of
the wildﬁre, was to escape to the other side
of the world — as far from Santiam Canyon
as they could get.
Since that wasn't realistic, they settled for
a secluded place on the Oregon Coast with
help from extended family.
They've been comfortable, but it just
hasn't been home.
They had the rental house on North Fork
Road done up in Western décor. It wasn't
fancy, but it was theirs. A log bed was one of
the ﬁnishing touches. Angie always wanted
one and found a used one about a year be-
fore the wildﬁres.
The couple appreciated everything they
had, but much of it can be replaced. They
also lost generations of family photographs
from both sides, which can't. They were the
keepers of their parents' photo albums.
Without Wyatt and Peggy, it's been diﬃ-
cult for them to ﬁnd joy in anything. Even
recently, when Chris bought a new truck, he
couldn't get excited about driving it.
Family and friends wonder if they should
go back to work to take their minds oﬀ what
they've lost, but they say they're just not
ready. Angie had been her mom's caregiver
for several years, and Chris worked for a Sa-
lem demolition company before the wildﬁre.
They haven't had to worry about ﬁ-
nances thanks to the Gofundme account,
but they've been careful not to spend on
anything but what they've needed.
"We're scared to," Angie said. “What if we
can't work? What if we can't keep a job?"
They're not sure what they want to do or
where they want to live. The subject of re-
turning to the canyon has come up, more
from Chris than Angie.
"Am I going to be able to drive up that
road and not remember every single time
that walk, that journey?" Angie said. "Or can
I learn to love it again the way that I did? It
really was a happy place. I know it's going to
be pretty again."
But she also knows everywhere she
turns something will remind her of Wyatt
and her mom.
As the ﬁrst anniversary of the wildﬁre
approaches, they're still trying to ﬁnd a way
to heal. They've yet to talk about their grief
with a professional but say they probably
"It's unreal how many months have gone
by and the world has moved on, and we
haven't," Angie said. "All of the sudden you
have no choice but to start a completely dif-
ferent life and start over again, but how do
you pick that?"
Capi Lynn is the Statesman Journal's
news columnist. Her column taps into the
heart of this community — its people, histo-
ry and issues. Contact her at clynn@States-
manJournal.com or 503-399-6710, or follow
her on Twitter @CapiLynn and Facebook