ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – An Abilene woman who lost her home in the Mesquite Heat wildfire could only imagine the worst when she evacuated her home. When she was able to return home again, she discovered her nightmares had become a reality.
Just down Highway 277, it has become a sea of charred trees for as far as you can look into the distance. What was once lush, green foliage has become ash-covered properties after the Mesquite Heat wildfire raged south of Abilene.
Amidst the dark grays and black coloration of the trees which remained, Stephanie Munshower, wearing bright baby blue scrubs, took a look around her property. Munshower, a head and neck oncology nurse, looked through the rubble of what was her childhood home in between cases.
It was Tuesday night when Munshower’s family was evacuated from their property. Her grandmother, aunts and 13-year-old daughter, all living on the property, were all forced to grab what they could and hit the road.
“What do you need to survive after this moment,” Munshower asked. “You take what you can that is surely irreplaceable, but in 15 minutes you don’t think about the things you wished you grabbed. You just grab what you can.”
Looking in their rearview mirror, they saw the last of their home as they knew, while only grabbing a change of clothes, a few pictures and important documents, and her daughter’s ballet dress ahead of her recital that upcoming Saturday.
“I think I really never thought it was gone, and still didn’t believe it,” Munshower said, “until we pulled up and saw everything was still on fire and burning.”
Just a few days later, before evacuation bans were lifted, Munshower begged to go see her what was left of her home. 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 her childhood home, built by her grandfather more than 40 years ago.
It was the property chosen by her grandparents when they first moved to the area, in the late 1970’s. Her grandfather made their gravel road, pruned and cut down trees, as well as build each square inch of their homes by hand. In total, he built two homes, his workshop and a pool house.
“I will never ever be able to experience this home that I was in, my grandmother’s home, so that for me is just very difficult,” Munshower revealed.
The property was once lined with flower beds, glowing with more colors than you could name, and teeming with hummingbirds outside the kitchen windows. Now, Munshower said it is like a warzone, painted by the red tint of the fire retardant dropped in efforts to slow the fires.
Munshower called the property ‘devastating,’ and said it hurts to look at what was the future home for children and know it is all gone.
But as the West Texas wind blew ash down like snow, Munshower walked over to another object that stood out as much, if not more, than her bright blue scrubs; a tattered hammock, intact, but covered in burn marks- as if someone put out cigarettes all over it.
“That hammock, in particular, was a favorite for everyone in my family; my kids, my dogs, my aunt… So that’s the first thing I noticed when I came to the property,” Munshower said. “There is nothing left and yet, that hammock is still here.”
Looking around, there was nothing but rubble. Looking beneath the hammock, was new life as a few new blades of grass popped up through the soil.
Munshower, in the effort to save what she could, let her sprinklers run while they evacuated. She said she believes it soaked the ground and the hammock just enough to keep it from melting away.
She said she plans to take the hammock down and frame it as a reminder of the memories they had before and during the fires, and plans to display that memory in their new homes once they’ve rebuilt.
While the homes her grandfather built are no longer there, she wants to keep his memory alive in their new homes. In childhood, Munshower said she and her grandfather would ride in a small, orange Kubota tractor, dig up stumps, plant flowers and everything in between to make their homes as beautiful as could be.
“We spent so much time developing it together, and then, also, he and my daughters were able to do that,” Munshower said. “They rode on the tractor with him together with him, and were able to experience that, too. Looking ahead, to see what he focused on and what he thought was the most important things on this property, will be the things I choose to focus on, also.”
Munshower said the cleanup will take months to complete, but they hope they can rebuild next year. Munshower’s family set up a GoFundMe page to help with their expenses. Click here to donate.
The Community Foundation of Abilene also has a fire relief donation site, helping the local volunteer fire departments and nonprofit. Click here to give.