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Rebuilding the Lake Country

What a Difference a Year Makes A supplement to The Graham Leader & Lake Country Sun


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REBUILDING THE LAKE COUNTRY

SUMMER 2012

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From ashes to greatness — rebuilding has begun Faced with a drought that seemed like it would never end, a fire season that destroyed hundreds of homes and thousands of acres and devastation rarely seen in the area, it would have been easy for those who live in the Lake Country to throw up their hands in despair. In fact, for me personally, it was tempting. After watching for weeks as storms built up within a few miles of Graham only to move

MY TURN BY DAVID RUPKALVIS LEADER EDITOR

north and drop rain elsewhere, I began to wonder if we were cursed. The sight of rain and the smell of rain did no good when not a single drop hit the parched land we live on.

Sixteen months ago, a combination that reminded some of the Dust Bowl, put the Lake Country in the cross hairs of danger. Much like Colorado and New Mexico faced this

year, extreme drought, low humidity and high winds were the perfect combination for devastation. We all know what happened next. One spark somewhere started a blaze. Another spark led to another. Before long, much of the Lake Country was on fire. Several different fires joined together to create the PK Complex fire, a wildfire so large nothing, not even Possum Kingdom Lake, could stop it. Local, state and even

national firefighters worked around the clock to protect the Lake Country. Every morning when the army of firefighters headed out, they had one goal — keep the growing fire under control. Firefighters placed themselves in front of the blaze to protect homes, tried to use natural breaks like rivers and roads to slow things down and worked nonstop to try to gain See BUILDING, Page 19

On the mend Just over a year after a raging wildfire left more than 100 homes in rubble around Possum Kingdom Lake, new homes are beginning to show up. Jeff and Beth Heldenbrand rebuilt this home, right, after losing their previous one to the fires last year at the Cliffs Resort. (Photos by Cherry Rushin and Jan Rosandich)

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One year later, Possum Kingdom really is OK BY CHERRY RUSHIN newsdesk@grahamleader.com Business at Possum Kingdom Lake is picking up after last season was devastated by fire and drought. Gayla Chambers, director of Possum Kingdom Chamber of Commerce, said misconception has been a tough obstacle to battle. “The problem was there was a conceived notion that Possum Kingdom burned up. It was like it had dissolved,” she said. The fires received extensive media coverage throughout the state and the nation when more than 100 homes in three housing additions, Sportsman’s World, Gaines Bend and Hogs Bend, burned in April of last year. Approximately 125,000 acres were destroyed, and the community was evacuated. Then a second fire in August burned several more homes at the Cliffs. “There was a fire and a drought, and our average temperature was 105 degrees last year. The lake levels dropped, and people thought that the

fire planes had sucked all of the water out of PK,” said Chambers. But from the ashes, the chamber took action and released a slogan, “PK is OK” and tried to get that message out locally, to the Metroplex and beyond. “The community pulled together in an incredible way to let people know PK is OK,” Chambers said. To try and get people back to the lake, the chamber hired a public relations company. “The cool thing is, PK really is OK,” said Chambers. “We launched the PR campaign without really knowing how broken the community was, how broken tourism was, but we have here a tight little community where everybody did all they could to get us back on our feet.” She estimates that 75 percent of the homes that were burned are being rebuilt. “That’s taken a while. We’re a year and half into it,” said Chambers. “The homes are bigger. People have made improvements. In addition,

PK is OK One year after Possum Kingdom Lake was devastated by wild fires, causing tourism to drop immensely, the lake is on its way back. During the Fourth of July festivities, large crowds visited the lake to celebrate Independence Day and enjoy fireworks. (Photos courtesy of Cheyenne Wuthrich)

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Jacksons slowly come back from nightmare BY JULIANNE MURRAH gninews@grahamleader.com Nearly a year ago, Paul and Linda Jackson experienced a nightmare that will never be forgotten. The April fires threatened their humble abode at the Cliffs Resort, reaching a burning distance of about a mile from their only home. The home survived that inferno, but just months later, the couple lost their home at the Cliffs resort as a result of the fires in August. “In the April fire, we were evacuated for a week,” said Linda. “Thank goodness we didn’t have any damage on that one. The August fire is when it got the Cliffs so bad.” Paul remembers that dreadful August afternoon like it was yesterday. “Linda at the time was working at Double Diamond as a group sales manager,” said Paul. “I was trying to take a nap at about 1:30 in the afternoon. I couldn’t sleep for some reason, which is never a problem for me. I sat up on the couch and saw smoke. I thought the

roof was on fire. I looked at the kitchen and all I could see was red, ya know, because the back wall of the kitchen was all glass windows.” At that moment, Paul went outside to see fires were roaring across from near the Cliffs by Highway 16. He spoke to a fire chief, who said that the fire was going to stay to the east — but Paul saw it differently. “The wind changed direction to the northwest, and I knew it wasn’t going to stay on the east side,” he said. “When I saw that, I went and got Linda, and we were evacuated from there. We were the last ones out of the gate.” “It was that quick,” said Linda. Their home, which was nestled on a peak overlooking the resort’s valley and golf course, stood vacant at the mercy of hungry flames lapping at numerous structures. Paul and Linda anxiously waited on Highway 16, watching the fires make their way inside and through the Cliffs — still hoping their home was intact. See JACKSONS, Page 16

Back in business Linda and Paul Jackson smile in front of their Jackson Real Estate work truck. The couple lost their only home in the August 2011 wildfires at the Cliffs. Temporarily leasing a home, the Jacksons plan to rebuild once debris is burned on their previous lot at the Cliffs. The debris will be burned once the burn ban is lifted. (Photo by Julianne Murrah)

We would like to take t this opportunity to express our continued gratitude to all ll of the people and age res. agencies that helped protect lives and property in last year's fires. The memories memor of the great efforts of the friends and neighbors who battled tled the fires will never be forgotten.

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Close call: Meltons happy they still have a home BY TRAVIS LISLE sports@grahamleader.com When Greg and D’Anne Melton first heard about the fires of last spring, all they could see was a light cloud of smoke in the sky. Four days later, they were being evacuated from their home. “I had been anticipating it for several days,” Greg said. “I told D’Anne that we needed to be prepared, so we had some things packed. We were notified in the middle of the afternoon on Sunday. We had some forewarning. We had some things packed and ready to go.” Packing their belongings into their two vehicles turned out to be an eye opening experience for Greg and D’Anne. “Once you get ready to take stuff away, you’re never really prepared,” D’Anne said. “It’s funny when that comes and you realize that it’s just all stuff. None of it is really important.” When the time came for Greg and D’Anne to leave their

Bunger home, there was certainly a feeling of “goodbye.” “I wasn’t panicked,” Greg said. “But there’s a sadness when you drive off because you don’t know what’s going to happen. I remember driving off and looking in the rearview mirror, and all I could see was that smoke blowing.” “We really thought we would not come back here,” D’Anne added. The thought that the two would not return to their home became a reality when they got three reports, while staying with Greg’s parents, that the house was gone. “I got three reports that our place was gone,” Greg said. The couple went through the process of trying to deal with the loss of one’s home. Then, another report came in. “The first call that said our place was still good was Layne Kramer,” Greg said. “We had about two hours of real bad news before Layne called and said, ‘Hey we’re going to See CLOSE, Page 18

Still grateful After their home was saved thanks to the hard work of firefighters, law enforcement and other volunteers, Greg and D’Anne Melton showed their thanks by building this sign. A year later, the Meltons say the close call reaffirmed their faith in their community. (Photo by Cherry Rushin)

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Coming back Fires in 2011 devastated tourism at Possum Kingdom Lake, but as large crowds over the Fourth of July showed, the lake is returning to normal. Big crowds are expected for a triathlon and bass fishing tournaments later this summer. (Photos courtesy of Cheyenne Wuthrich)

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PK State Park back to business as usual BY CHERRY RUSHIN newsdesk@grahamleader.com Possum Kingdom State Park is back to business as usual since the fires in spring of 2011. Although the park did not lose any buildings to the fire, much of it was burned. “We had damage to one of our cabins and damage to the water plant and to a sewer field. We had damage to a couple of campsites, but for the most part we were very lucky,” said Park Superintendent Rocky Holland. Most of the damage was on the hill away from most of the camp grounds. “There’s about 1,600 acres in the park and about 1,000 of them were affected by the fire,” Holland said. Nine miles of barbed-wire fence was burned, and that has not yet been replaced. “We’re waiting on FEMA, they’re going to furnish the money to replace the fencing. We’re still waiting on that money,” said Holland. “I don’t know how long it will be. I think there are some people in Louisiana still waiting on

FEMA. I talked to the folks in Austin, and they don’t know either. We’re in hurry up and wait mode right now. But everything else is back up and running.” The fires last year affected the park’s visitation for last summer. “I think there was a lot of false information about the lake in general and how bad it was or wasn’t affected,” Holland said. “With the lake being so low last year, that had a negative effect on us as well as the rest of the businesses. We’ve got a pretty good lake level this year, so we’re seeing some pretty good visitation this year. Not back to what it was pre-wildfire figures, but it’s getting better.” He said last year, visitation was down between 60 and 70 percent. This year, it’s down 30 to 40 percent of what was normal pre-fire. “I think word is starting to get around that we’re open and doing business. Once you get past the scarred landscape on the hill, everything is pretty normal in the campground,” See PARK, Page 14

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Family slowly recovers from devastating loss BY GAY STORMS lifestyles@grahamleader.com Life has lots of surprises. Jo Ann and Skip Dent received the worst surprise of their lives in August 2010. Skip Dent had returned home from taking his wife and his two grandsons to catch a flight at DFW Airport. As he was approaching the east side of Possum Kingdom Lake, he saw smoke close to The Cliffs. He stopped at the Scenic Overlook to see where it was headed. “I saw a huge grass fire moving fast toward The Cliffs,” Dent said. “Juniper trees were exploding as the fire spread toward The Cliffs.” He immediately sped to his home in The Cliffs to rescue their dog. Although a guard at the entrance stopped him and said he couldn’t enter, Dent won the argument. He drove to their house on Castle Harbor Drive and retrieved his Westie. “By the time I left, the gate guard had evacuated,” he said. “The fire had jumped the highway and the entrance gate was burning. There was

no other way out. Dent returned to Scenic Outlook in time to see the houses on his street catch fire and burn to the ground. He saw his new retirement home and his wife’s brand new 2012 Buick La Crosse go up in smoke. “I watched the houses on our street burn down, one by one. Seven out of eight houses on our street were burned down,” Dent said. “I can’t describe the emptiness and despair I felt. Our two-story brick home was gone. My wife’s brand new Buick La Crosse was unrecognizable.” The Dents had already evacuated for a week during the April fire and were thankful that their house wasn’t in danger. He was incredulous that after serving 30 years in the U.S. Army, including three tours in Korea, he was experiencing his first major disaster. “We were for the first time in our lives, living in our own home in one place,” Dent said. “I called me wife and told her that we no longer had a home — everything was ashes. “All that was left of our twostory house was ashes. Cast

Nothing left Ashes are all that are left at the lot where Jo Ann and Skip Dent once lived at The Cliffs. Their new retirement home was one of seven out of eight houses burned on Castle Harbor Drive last August. (Courtesy photo) iron, ceramic pottery — all burned.” The night before the fire the

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Recovers Continued from Page 12 were old enough to enjoy looking at old pictures,” he said. ”It was all gone the next time they came. “All our pictures were gone and all the things we had collected during my 30 years in the Army,” he said. A gun safe full of antique firearms and other valuable weapons were burned up. “I had stored 300 rounds of ammunition in my gun safe, and they exploded,” he said. But one of the worst losses was the Army certificates and awards he had earned during his military career. “Many of them were signed by important Army generals and leaders in the Korean Air Force,” he said. “There was no way they could be replaced.” Digging through the ashes gave him a bad sore throat and he realized it wasn’t worth it — the lot of ashes was too unhealthy. Jo Ann Dent wanted to return home immediately. However, he urged her to stay in D.C. with their son and family until he could find a place to lease. Not until Jo Ann returned home would the full impact of the loss hit her. “I couldn’t believe that our house was gone,” she said. Dent lived in an Air Stream trailer two weeks before finding a place to lease.” Dent spent the months of August through October 2010 battling the USAA to get an insurance check to recover losses from the fire. “They cheated me,” he said. “The other insurance companies wrote checks immediately so that homeowners could lease houses for a year.”

And to make things worse, his insurance company had not estimated the total cost to replace a home and its contents. “We updated our replacement insurance annually, butthey underestimated by about $120,000. Only 75 percent of what was lost was covered,” Skip said. Then he had to fight his company’s order to rebuild on the same burned-out lot, which absolutely no one did. “Every single thing on our property was gone,” Dent said. “Nobody wanted to rebuild there because every lot had a view of the fire.” “They said they couldn’t give us the money until the house contract was closed. Where am I supposed to get the money? We don’t have the money,” he said. Next they wanted proof that they’d paid off their house at the Cliffs. “We lost most of our identities, no tax returns, no Social Security cards so it was hard to get all the paperwork for a mortgage loan. It’s incredibly hard to buy a house and have nothing,” he said. But thanks to Southern Lakes and Leisure, the developer of Hills above PK, they were able to lease a house filled with furniture until a permanent one could be found. Finally the couple had the resources to rebuild their lives at Possum Kingdom Lake. Jo Ann Dent said she was still struggling with the process of recovery. “I went to Walmart and after I walked in, all I could do was just stand there,” she said. “I realized I needed everything. She said they had many

A new place to call home Jo Ann and Skip Dent and their Westie now live at Clear Cove Court in the Hills Above Possum Kingdom development. After losing their home last August, the homeowners were the only ones on their street who chose to rebuild and to remain in the PK Lake area. (Photo by Gay Storms) friends from living at The Cliffs that she saw everyday. “We still consider ourselves Cliff Dwellers,”Jo Ann Dent said. “I go there to play golf, walk and kayak. Couples eat together at night.We talk a lot. We have made new friends with people who lost their homes living around us. They’re sad stories.” The Dents now live in a beautiful house on Clear Cove Court in Hills Above PK where there are numerous homes under construction. ”We replaced our furniture

room by room, but we can’t afford to replace everything,” Jo Ann Dent said. “It’s been a slow rebuild effort.” The Dents are one of the few people living full-time at PK whose home was destroyed who have stayed in the area. “We’re the only one of the seven (Castle Harbor Drive) who rebuilt,” Dent said. “The others who stayed are leasing homes. We were surprised. Many moved as fast as they could and did not want to rebuild.” His friend Larry Anderson,

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Park Continued from Page 9 he said. The state parks system was hit twice last year with the fire at PK State Park and at the Bastrop State Park, but as of now, clearing the landscape of charred matter isn’t on the agenda. “As of right now, our natural resource officer in Austin has taken the stance that we should leave most of it as is and see how Mother Nature responds,” Holland said. Park personnel have been authorized to clear anywhere that may be a hazard to automobile traffic or visitors, like roadways, hiking trails, campsites and around rest rooms. “We’re still working on it. We have had help from the TDCJ, the Walker-Sayles Unit. They have been very cooperative in sending folks out here to help us with the tree clean up,” said Holland. All of the clean up has to be done by hand since parks are not allowed to use anything mechanical like bulldozers to protect potential archaeological sites. “We have a small crew here.

With the help of the inmates, we’ve made two new hiking trails and cleared up the brush,” said Scott Parrish, interpretive guide for the park. “After the Bastrop fire, the parks department was unable to send any assistance, so these guys have helped a lot. Nine guys on chain saws beats the heck out of two.” The park will also be bringing a new water treatment plant online in November 2013. Holland said it will take a while before the regrowth begins to look like it did pre-fire, and it probably won’t occur in our lifetimes. “But the deep-rooted trees, the red oaks and post oaks are coming back up from the roots,” he said. “The cedar trees which are an invasive species with a shallow root system, it pretty much killed those off which is a good thing. The cedar trees will overrun you if you don’t control them in some way so I guess this is Mother Nature’s way of taking care of some of them.” He added that surprisingly, the wildlife seems to be unharmed. “I thought it would hurt our

The wildlife is back Wildlife like this family of deer have returned to PK Lake. deer population, but they’re back. It also didn’t do anything to our hog problem,” Holland said. “Surprisingly, the wildlife doesn’t seem to have been too negatively affected. The numbers seem to be the same as before the fire. I don’t know where they went during the fire, but they all seem to be back — birds, squirrels, fox and deer.” He said the fishing is also good.

“The state parks have a program where you don’t need a fishing license to fish off the bank in the state park and people fishing off the bank have had pretty good luck,” Holland said. The park has been working to let everyone know that it’s still there and worth a visit now as much as ever. “We’ve done multiple interviews with stations from the Metroplex, Wichita Falls and

(Photo courtesy of Peggy Pope) the Abilene area using every media outlet possible to get the word out to the public that we’re up and running and it’s business as usual,” Holland said. “It’s kind of a shock when people first enter the park. Our landscape is void of the cedar trees they normally see, but once they get into the park, everything is pretty much what it was before. We’re looking forward to having big crowds back here.”

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Jacksons

Continued from Page 5

“We sat on 16 about a mile or so away and watched it all burn,” said Linda. “It was that quick. We were sitting there to see if it was going to get our house. “We started getting updates. We were closer, but we started getting pushed back.” Despite the high hopes, the damage had already been done. Paul and Linda’s home and all of their belongings— some irreplaceable — had succumbed to the flames. “We had some friends on the lake that saw our home and told us they could see our home burning,” said Linda. “Once it jumped the highway, it was over,” said Paul. Overwhelmed, confused and heartbroken, the couple headed to Walmart in Mineral Wells because they literally had nothing but the clothes on their back and Linda’s laptop. “Once we walked around Walmart, Paul and I bumped back into each other. I asked him, ‘What did you get?’ He said, ‘Nothing.’ He asked me, ‘What did you get? I said, ‘Nothing.’ Then we decided

“Well, first we had to deal with the insurance. Some of our friends who live in the Metroplex who have a home in the Cliffs offered their home for us to stay in. We were fortunate enough to have a place to go. We stayed there until November. Now we’re leasing a place. We’re still looking at rebuilding.” Linda Jackson Homeowner who lost residence to fire that we had to get out of there so we left,” Linda said. The couple headed to the Harbor, where evacuees were invited to stay. “The Harbor put people up there,” said Linda. “They were generous and cooked. The next day, the fire threatened the Harbor so we had to evacuate again. Mineral Wells was full. We went to Weatherford after that for about a week. By Sunday, they had enough power back up and they offered a place to stay at the hotel (at the Cliffs).” The gruesome reality that their home had just burned into ash seemed unreal to the couple.

“We felt sick,” said Paul. “Just sick to your stomach. The worst part was you wanted to see it for yourself. We have friends and a family in the Metroplex to stay with, but we wanted to be able to see it after, just to confirm.” “At first you’re in shock,” said Linda. “You don’t realize it. Still to this day, we think of things we lost — because it was everything.” After the reality set in and the house was confirmed as a total loss, it was time for the couple to start over. “Well, first we had to deal with the insurance,” said Linda. “Some of our friends who live in the Metroplex who have

Dalton Construction, Inc. Craftsmanship is our

a home in the Cliffs offered their home for us to stay in. We were fortunate enough to have a place to go. We stayed there until November. Now we’re leasing a place. We’re still looking at rebuilding.” The couple owns Jackson Real estate and said that businesses is doing better. “Our business has picked up since the fire,” said Paul. “With the fire and drought, it was a little bit tough but it’s picked up a great deal. We’re both retired from our original jobs. We do what we want to do.” Paul said that there has been a great improvement at the resort since the fire. “They’ve done such a great job of restoring the resort,” he said. “Mike Ward and the staff of Double Diamond resorts have done a great job cleaning things up and replacing the trees. “They’ve done an outstanding job of putting things back together.” Paul and Linda plan to rebuild again at the Cliffs, but they have to hold off for the land they want. “We’re waiting to rebuild,”

Legacy

said Paul. “We can’t rebuild yet because there are a lot of trees piled up (that had been cleared to be burned) and they haven’t been burned because of the burn ban.” The couple is looking forward to getting things moving along. “We’re excited,” said Paul. “We want to go home. We want our own place. The place we are leasing — it’s a wonderful place, it’s a wonderful home. The people leasing it are just tremendous to do this but we want to go home. “As soon as the ban if lifted and they burn debris, we will rebuild.” Things are looking up for the Jacksons, just a little differently then they had planned in the beginning. “It’s a different mindset,” said Linda. “You had so much before, now you think that you don’t need all of that.” “We’re fortunate to be alive and to be able to do what we need to do,” said Paul. Those interested in buying or renting real estate from the Jacksons may call Paul at (817) 688-6242.

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PK Continued from Page 4 not only are homes being rebuilt, there’s new construction going on.” She said the housing additions have been cleaned up considerably. For the most part, no businesses burned. “The peninsula, which is our business district, was untouched. We did lose one church — the Baptist church,” Chamber said. This past spring’s rain did a lot to help the lake be more successful this season. The lake level is up and people are returning. “Business is actually very, very good right now. We’ve had a wonderful season so far,” Chamber said. “All of our businesses, the grocery store, hardware store, lodging facilities, public use areas — over the busy weekends — those facilities were full and they had to close them to more people.” All boat ramps are open with the exception of the Bug Beach boat ramp which needs repair. “We had a great Fourth of July, just over the top with people here buying, shopping, eating, drinking, boating,” Chambers said. The chamber is looking forward to its next big event when it will host its first Trifecta Triathlon on Sept. 16. “We’re hoping for 500 athletes to swim, bike and run,” Chambers said. The Bass Clubs of Texas will also be hosting a junior championship Aug. 25 and 26 and championship Sept. 29 and 30 which will feature the top six anglers from over 50 bass clubs. “Every year it’s going to get better. Just keep your fingers crossed that it rains,” said Chambers.

The lake is coming back More than 100 homes were destroyed in two fires that devastated Possum Kingdom Lake last year. Most of the damage was done during the PK Complex fire in April, but a blaze in October also claimed some homes. One year later, construction is going on heavily at the lake as homeowners rebuild, often (Photo by Gay Storms) bigger and better than before.

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REBUILDING THE LAKE COUNTRY

SUMMER 2012

Close Continued from Page 6 save it.’” Kramer, owner of a construction company, was able to use his trucks to dig trenches and spray water onto properties. The ill-informed calls about the destruction of the house had been a bit premature. They probably had something to do with the fact that the fire was still closing in on the house from the south and the west. “It turned out that the fire was just so close that if you weren’t right by the house, you would have to believe that it was burnt down,” D’Anne said. “So we had credible sources, but they just weren’t quite close enough to see everything.” The fire got as close as the fence line, which lies about 300 yards from the house itself. Then, a flying machine built for war swooped in like a superhero and saved the home. “It burned all the way to the south fence line,” Greg said. “What really saved the day was a Blackhawk helicopter that came in and wiped out the fire on the south fence line. The whole place was kind of surrounded. It’s amazing that everything out here didn’t burn up.” “People just didn’t think that there was any way it could be saved, and then that Blackhawk helicopter just wiped the fire out.” D’Anne added. Though the helicopter was a major reason that the Melton’s house wasn’t burned down, even more homes and properties were saved thanks to the work of local police, fire departments from all over the country and volunteers like Layne Kramer. “The real heroes in this were Bryan Walls, the sheriffs and

fire departments, Layne Kramer and Sam Burgess,” Greg said. “Those people stuck it out.” “You can’t praise law enforcement, the firefighters, the Air National Guard enough,” D’Anne said. “You can’t thank those people enough.” One year removed from the near-tragedy, the Melton’s realize that some people were not as lucky. Not everybody got to keep their homes during the fires. Now, the elementary principal and teacher and their neighbors are doing their part to keep this from ever happening again. “I feel safer right here today than I ever have,” Greg said. “I think everyone around here today has taken every precaution you can take. I feel as safe as I would if I lived in town. Every neighbor chipped in. Most of us have been a whole lot more vigilant about keeping the pastures mowed down. There’s only so much you can do during a drought when things are hot, dry and windy.” Though the fires were a terrible destructive force, the ironic thing is that among the chaos and destruction, the Meltons were reminded of how good their community is and how the people around them mean so much more than the material things. “It did me a lot of good to see the good in human nature,” Greg added. “There were neighbors going out of their way to help each other. The fire departments did such a great job. I truly feel safer than I’ve ever felt. Sometimes that bad stuff brings out the best in everybody. To me, as bad as those fires were, and I hope I never see it again, it restores your faith in human nature to see it.”

Devastation Despite the non-stop efforts from volunteer firefighters throughout the area, state and nation, walls of flame devastated the Lake Country during fires in April and August. More than 100 homes were burned but countless more were saved due to the efforts of the firefighters, law enforcemen and others. (Photos by David Rupkalvis and Mark Enegebretson)

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Building Continued from Page 3 Faced with a drought that seemed like it would never end, a fire season that destroyed hundreds of homes and thousands of acres and devastation rarely seen in the area, it would have been easy for those who live in the Lake Country to throw up their hands in despair. In fact, for me personally, it was tempting. After watching for weeks as storms built up within a few miles of Graham only to move north and drop rain elsewhere, I began to wonder if we were cursed. The sight of rain and the smell of rain did no good when not a single drop hit the parched land we live on. Sixteen months ago, a combination that reminded some of the Dust Bowl, put the Lake Country in the cross hairs of danger. Much like Colorado and New Mexico faced this year, extreme drought, low humidity and high winds were the perfect combination for devastation. We all know what happened next. One spark somewhere started a blaze. Another spark led to another. Before long, much of the Lake Country was on fire. Several different fires joined together to create the PK Complex fire, a wildfire so large nothing, not even Possum Kingdom

Lake, could stop it. Local, state and even national firefighters worked around the clock to protect the Lake Country. Every morning when the army of firefighters headed out, they had one goal — keep the growing fire under control. Firefighters placed themselves in front of the blaze to protect homes, tried to use natural breaks like rivers and roads to slow things down and worked nonstop to try to gain the upper hand. After what felt like months, but was just a few weeks, Mother Nature began to cooperate, and the fire was finally stopped. But what was once one of the most beautiful places in the nation was reduced to charred, black rubble. Million dollar homes that took months to build were leveled in just minutes. Our friends and neighbors lost their homes, belongings and memories. A few at Possum Kingdom vowed to stay with their homes only to change their minds at the last minute. Those few were fortunate game wardens and others were waiting to rescue them when the finally came to their senses. More than 100 homes were destroyed, mostly at PK Lake, but thousands throughout the area were impacted. Many who still have homes were forced to evacu-

Covered in smoke A heavy plume of smoke rises over Graham as the PK Complex fire moves into Young County. More than a year after the blaze was extinguished, the Lake (Photo by David Rupkalvis) Country is rebuilding.

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