Thursday, July 7, 2022

Debra's Fire Story

 The morning of the day of the fire—at 5 am—the big, lovely shade tree in my backyard blew over in the windstorm accompanying the Almeda fire. It landed on the roof of my house. I peered out the sliding glass window in my bedroom, right into the leafy branches of that wonderful shade tree—they were inches from my face—very disconcerting! It had fallen but was stopped from crashing through the sliding glass windows by the big branches resting on the roof.

This event was disturbing and dangerous, but I didn’t even have time to take care of the dilemma. I set about getting a tree guy to come out and cut it down off my roof, but before this could happen, we were informed that a raging fire was coming through town, and that many residents had to evacuate, and some were highly encouraged to. My neighborhood was one of high encouragement, but they didn’t have to ask me twice. I keep my big yard watered really well and figured that was going to have to suffice. I gathered a bunch of things in an hour, jumped into my car and headed out of town the back way toward my daughter’s house in Ruch, just outside of Jacksonville. I could see the huge flames burning down Talent Avenue as I left. It gave me a very spooky feeling, not knowing if I’d ever see my sweet little home again. 

 The frantic throwing of items we wanted to save, or might need to save ourselves, followed by the flight out of town, which in fact proved to be inching out of town in a line of traffic, while seeing across the flat expanse of the fields in the outskirts of town while the flames tore through Talent, was all frightening enough. Then there was a period of time of not knowing what burned and what prevailed that brought another kind of dread. My house did not burn. I knew within about 36 hours by news through the telephone and by watching YouTube drone videos of town, but I could not return or really see it. 

During this time, and for days afterward, an avalanche of communication overwhelmed me. It seemed that everyone I knew from high school, maybe grade school in some instances, up through my entire adult life, both friends and relatives, were extremely concerned and deserved to know if I was alright. I didn’t know my phone even had that many beeps in it! My head ached with repetition of the incidents and conditions, but I felt like everyone should know that I had survived! My house also survived with some roof damage, and a big hole in my yard, but really, it was nothing compared to losing everything to the fire. 

I had to stay at my daughter’s for over a week because power and water were off all over my neighborhood. However, I came back almost every day, once it became safe, to turn off my gas, empty and clean my refrigerator, clean up debris from the storm and the tree falling, get the tree off the roof, etc. My backyard looked like a hurricane hit it (which it kind of did), at least in the area where the tree fell, but I am so grateful to still have my home. I am also grateful for the wonderful neighbors who set up generators and kept an eye on everyone’s house. Two looters were arrested by the Talent Police in our neighborhood. The neighbors all banded together and helped each other out in many ways. 

It was the worst disaster Talent has ever known, but many parts of our town were more or less intact. We celebrate the survival of the 100-year-old tree, planted in front of Talent Elementary, and the schools, Talent Elementary and Talent Middle School, which are all still standing after the fire. Many of Talent’s historic sites survived. A few were lost, not in our memories, but in physical reality. As I write this account, a roofer is walking around on top of my house, trying to give me an estimate for an entire roof replacement. A kind friend sent a card with money in it to replace my tree. 

The disaster has brought so many people together. The town set up a place in front of our little pizza parlor for people to bring goods to give away to those in need. This is still a wonderful community. I know it will build back, give back, and continue to be the charming town I fell in love with. 

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     The purpose of this blog is to document the history of the Almeda Fire. To protect contributors, we have intentionally not allowed comm...