VIEW, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – One year ago this week, nearly 11,000 acres of land were incinerated by the flames of the Mesquite Heat fire. Now, residents are seeing new life and starting new beginnings after their lives were turned upside down within minutes.
If you’re driving south on Highway 277, the sight of charred treetops still looms large down the winding road. If you look to the ground, though, a menagerie of colors fills the ground as new grass and flowers begin to grow.
You may hear the wind whip through the hills a little louder with the lack of tree cover, but birds are chirping and everything seems to be on the right track.
It’s a sense of normalcy returning after the devastation caused by the Mesquite Heat fire last May, for the flora, fauna and the residents living just a few miles south of Abilene.
For Stephanie Munshower, all that was left of the land she grew up on was smoldering rubble and the red stains from the fire retardants dropped to slow the burn. The homes her grandfather sought out, built, and maintained for so many years were gone in a matter of minutes.
Just a week-and-a-half ago, Munshower and her two teen daughters returned to the property to stay, moving into their freshly built home on the same spot her grandparents’ home stood before the fire.
“From there to here, it feels like a blink of an eye, and to move back to my property is just a huge blessing,” Munshower said.
Much like how Munshower spent a good portion of her childhood, she sits on a patio swing installed at her home. She, along with her dog, Tobi, swing, staring off into the distance and remembering those fateful days.
This day, though, a small brush pile was burning, which Munshower said brings back a sense of anxiousness, along with the overwhelming smell of smoke that still lingers when it rains through the hills.
“To go from having nothing last year, realizing everything we had was gone; our house our stuff, our plants, everything,” listed Munshower, “to start again and be able to look to the future, has been very important and a really important event coming up on this one-year mark.”
It wasn’t too long ago Munshower remembers packing up everything they could cram in their family car, driving away from the smoke and not knowing what they would return to. It was a very similar feeling returning to their new home, everything they owned crammed into the back of her vehicle.
While they were unable to recover many valuables, the family hammock survived the flames, only suffering minor ash burns. Munshower quickly grabbed it, along with the rubble, ash covered dog tags from her grandparent’s time in the Air Force.
Those were the only tangible items salvaged. However, Munshower documented the process from removing the rubble all the way until the first night of staying in their new home through video blogs on her personal Facebook page.
She said it was a way to connect with others in similar situations, while also receiving support from strangers across the Big Country.
“I felt like I was living this process by myself,” Munshower revealed. “Just to be able to get it out there for people who might be going through similar things and say, ‘it’s ok to be sad and to work through it, move on and to know good things are coming.’”
Good things came in due time for the Munshowers, finally settling into their home at the beginning of May. While it was not the same home they grew up in and were accustomed to, it was theirs. She said they got to move in a week earlier than expected, leaving her without a mattress until the evening of their first night there.
It seemed as if the joy, much like the animals and the flowers, came back to their family home, she said.
“We sat here and yelled through the canyon, and laughed and joked,” described Munshower, of the ‘perfect’ first night on the patio. “It was the perfect Mother’s Day in our swing at our home.”
While Munshower said she knows not everyone is in the same situation, some not even wanting to rebuild their lost homes, she said she hopes they are encouraged with the growth and change happening a year later.
“After such a horrific tragedy, realizing there is life after this, there is joy and happiness,” Munshower assured.
As a token to represent their communities’ strength, Munshower and her daughters are making coasters for the families impacted by the Mesquite Heat fires. They are using the old oak trees that lined their property, burning the letters “MHF” in the top and wanting to distribute them to nearby residents.
You can reach out to Munshower via Facebook if you were affected by the Mesquite Heat Fire and would like a coaster.