ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – An Abilene woman who lost her home in the Mesquite Heat fire could only imagine the worst when she evacuated her home. When she was able to return home, she found her nightmares had come true.
Just down Highway 277, it’s become a sea of charred trees as far as you can look. What was once lush green foliage became ash-covered properties after the Wildfire in Mesquite Heat rages south of Abilene.
Amid the dark grays and black coloring of the remaining trees, Stephanie Munshower, wearing light blue scrubs, looked around her property. Munshower, a head and neck oncology nurse, examined the rubble of what was her childhood home between cases.
It was Tuesday evening when Munshower’s family was evacuated from their property. Her grandmother, aunts and 13-year-old daughter, who all lived on the property, were all forced to grab what they could and hit the road.
“What do you need to survive after this time,” Munshower asked. “You take what you can which is surely irreplaceable, but in 15 minutes you don’t think about the things you would have liked to grab. You just grab what you can.
Looking in their rear-view mirror, they saw the last of their home as they knew it, while grabbing nothing but a change of clothes, some important photos and documents, and her daughter’s ballet dress ahead of her recital this coming Saturday.
“I think I really never thought it was gone, and I still didn’t believe it,” Munshower said, “until we pulled over and saw it was all still on. fire and was burning.”
A few days later, before the evacuation bans were lifted, Munshower begged to go see what was left of his house. She said after a little while she was loaded into a sheriff’s vehicle and driven to their 13-acre property.
Turning the corner of their long gravel road, Munshower saw only the ash-covered memories of his childhood home, built by his grandfather more than 40 years ago.
It was the property chosen by his grandparents when they first moved to the area in the late 1970s. His grandfather gravelled their road, trimmed and felled trees, and built every square inch of their homes by hand. In total, he built two houses, his workshop and a pool house.
“I will never be able to experience this house that I was in, my grandmother’s house, so it’s very difficult for me,” Munshower revealed.
The property was once lined with flowerbeds, bursting with more color than you could name and teeming with hummingbirds outside the kitchen windows. Now Munshower said it was like a war zone, painted in the red tint of fire retardant dropped in an effort to slow the fires.
Munshower called the property “devastating” and said it hurt to look at what the future children’s home was and know it was all gone.
But as the west Texas wind blew ashes like snow, Munshower headed for another object that stood out as much, if not more, than its bright blue brush; a tattered hammock, intact, but covered in burn marks – as if someone had put out cigarettes everywhere.
“This hammock, in particular, was my family’s favorite; my kids, my dogs, my aunt… So that’s the first thing I noticed when I got to the property,” Munshower said. “There is nothing left and yet this hammock is still there.”
Looking around, there was only rubble. Looking under the hammock, there was new life as a few new blades of grass popped up through the ground.
Munshower, in an effort to salvage what she could, left her sprinklers running while they evacuated. She said she believed he soaked the floor and the hammock just enough to keep it from melting.
She said she planned to take the hammock down and frame it as a reminder of the memories they had before and during the fires, and that she planned to display that keepsake in their new homes once they would have rebuilt.
While the houses her grandfather built are gone, she wants to keep his memory alive in their new homes. As a child, Munshower said she and her grandfather rode in a small orange Kubota tractor, digging up stumps, planting flowers and everything else to make their homes as beautiful as possible.
“We spent so much time developing it together, and then he and my girls were able to do it,” Munshower said. “They rode the tractor with him and got to experience it too. Going forward, seeing what he focused on and what he thought were the most important things about this property, those will also be the things I choose to focus on.
Munshower said the cleanup will take months, but they hope to be able to rebuild next year. Munshower’s family created a GoFundMe page to help them with their expenses. Click here make a donation.
The Abilene Community Foundation also has a fire relief donation site, helping local volunteer firefighters and nonprofit organizations. Click here to give.