Jim Zuber cleans up bricks, discarded from Conger-Morris Funeral Home's crematorium ovens, which were dumped on a vacant portion of the funeral home's Central Point property. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photo - Bob Pennell

Ashes to clashes

A pile of bone-white crematorium bricks and ash dumped in a field behind Conger-Morris Funeral Home in Central Point has appalled neighbors and prompted a police inquiry.

"It's disgusting," said Robert Pendrey, who lives a few hundred feet from the mortuary. "My grandkids came home with some of the bricks."

Central Point police received a report Thursday of the brick pile in a field next to Cupp Drive near the corner of Highway 99. On Tuesday, the mortuary cleaned up the bricks and other debris, including a mound of tree branches.

The white ash included in the pile raised concerns among neighbors that human ashes were part of the debris pile, but Conger-Morris employees say that was not the case.

"All I can attest to is there are no human remains," said Jim Zuber, who operates the oven and loaded up the bricks and debris into a truck. "There is nothing hazardous about this material."

Central Point police investigated the bricks but couldn't make a determination about the ashen debris.

"Even if you find ashes, it's impossible to tell if they're human ashes with the naked eye," said Detective Jarod Pomeroy. "I don't believe any kind of crime was committed here."

Despite assurances from the funeral home that there was no human ash in the pile, neighbors were not mollified.

"I had my mom cremated, so I know what human ash looks like," said Cathy Bailey. "Whether this is legal or illegal, there should be some kind of ethical rule."

She said that dumping the bricks in an open field shows a disrespect for the community.

Bob Neff, co-owner of Conger-Morris, said he plans to apologize to neighbors for dumping the bricks, but provided an explanation for the ashen debris mixed in with the bricks.

"That's the chips off the bricks," he said.

The used brick is from an afterburner that gets rid of any remaining smoke or smell from the main chamber in the oven, Neff said.

"Those bricks never touched the body," he said.

After each cremation the afterburner is cleaned out, and from time to time broken bricks are replaced, Neff said.

He said he wasn't aware of the bricks until Tuesday. "I thought somebody was talking about the yard garbage," he said.

Old bricks are disposed of at the dump, Neff said.

He said he didn't know what was contained in the other melted debris in the pile.

Some 300 to 500 cremations are performed annually, he said. Temperatures inside the oven reach 1,800 to 2,000 degrees.

This isn't the first time neighbors have complained about the mortuary.

In 2008, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality conducted an investigation because black smoke was seen coming out of the chimney of the crematorium. Neighbors said ash rained down on the neighborhood.

Conger-Morris officials said at the time that an afterburner had malfunctioned, causing emissions from the exhaust pipe to exceed limits on three occasions in a three-month period.

Some neighbors were not aware that the bricks and other debris had been dumped in the field until Tuesday.

Mark Chandler watched as Zuber loaded the bricks into a truck, expressing surprise that they would be dumped in such an open area.

"Isn't there any other way to dispose of them?" 45-year-old Chandler asked.

He said he didn't buy Zuber's explanation that the ash was actually a sooty material that sloughs off the brick.

Chandler's girlfriend, Connie Barnett, also was dismayed that a pile of crematorium bricks and ash were just a few hundred feet from her children. She wondered why the mortuary couldn't have picked a better place to get rid of the materials.

"There's a place down the road for that — it's called the dump," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email

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