WHEATLAND – Kerry and Clara Powers who have been married for 55 years and who have amassed five decades of treasures and memories watched it all burn to ash in the span of 30 minutes as 80-mile gusts of wind from over the mountains drove the fire to cause total destruction.
“It’s a total loss,” said Power’s son Quincy who was at the residence at the time the fire started. “I was sitting on the couch watching a movie with mom and dad and we had the dog with us. I heard a strange crackling noise. I thought it was Amos the dog eating the butter off the kitchen table, but I looked down and no, Amos was right there.”
It was not in fact a butter-eating dog, but something heinous and ominous and within the next hour, the Powers family barely escaped the fire with their lives.
“I ran across to the other side of the house and I saw orange coming from underneath the door,” Powers said. “I thought to myself, well, that’s not right and I opened it just a crack and it was just a ball of fire. I yelled ‘FIRE’ and dad was like, ‘what?’ and came running in. I then opened the door and burnt myself nicely.”
Kerry Powers went immediately in search of something to try to put the fire out and while Quincy was heading outside to find water hoses, the elder Powers filled a bucket with water.
The fire started in the pool room, aptly named for being where Kerry’s pool table resided. That was the room that Quincy first saw the orange glow that spelled disaster.
“It was an old house, and we built a whole new house on it,” Clara Powers said. “So, the house was 50-feet long and if you are in the old house, you can’t hear or smell anything in the new part of the house, because of the way the rooms are. Had we been sleeping, it would have got us.”
Had the fire started later, and Quincy would have left for his cabin which is also located directly to the west of the Powers home, and the elder Powers would have retired for the night, they would have never known until it would have been too late.
“I got a bucket of water,” Kerry Powers said. “It didn’t work too well. When the flashover occurred, I knew it was over. I just threw the bucket of water in there and tried to get out.”
When Quincy realized that the electrical was gone for the pumps to the outside water, he tried to reenter the home through the front door.
“I ran to the front door,” Quincy said. “Dad’s looking for mom as he was coming back into the kitchen and it was all full of smoke. I opened that front door and the backdraft knocked me about eight foot back from the door and the door flew in and hit dad in the chest and knocked him back into the living room.”
Both Quincy and Kerry sustained minor burns and injuries and Kerry was taken to the hospital to be checked for smoke inhalation. From the fall caused by the backdraft, they examined Quincy’s elbow but was it was not broken. Meanwhile, as Kerry is going for a bucket, Clara is going for a cellphone to call 911. That cellphone was the only thing the family was able to salvage from the devastation.
“It knocked me down,” Kerry said. “And of course, the room was full of smoke. I couldn’t see and crawled a few feet and got up, I am bumpin’ into things, I can’t find my way to the south room exit where we were watching TV. So I started hollering for Clara because I didn’t know if she was still in there.”
Powers said he wasn’t feeling much of anything and said that he was just trying to survive as he was trapped inside of the inferno. His wife called to him and he followed her voice to where she was outside on the phone with the 911 operator.
“I didn’t have time to be scared, really,” he said. “I was just trying to survive. I don’t know how to explain it, but thank God Clara was already on the outside of the house by the door that I was trying to get through so I just followed her voice.”
One of the reasons Quincy had tried to go into the front door was to tell his dad that Clara had already gotten out and was calling 911.
“I wanted to make sure both of them were outside,” Quincy said. “I knew there wasn’t any time, and I knew that to stay inside to recover anything would be bad and there was nothing that could have been worth saving at that point.”
The family doesn’t know how long the fire had burned before it was discovered, but Clara said, “I can’t believe it burned long because our dogs are bird dogs and so they have really good noses. They were laying asleep on the floor. It didn’t even disturb them until we all got up and realized what was going on.”
Kerry spent an hour at the hospital and were released and both say that both he and Quincy were coughing up black debris from their lungs.
Because of the wind gusts, the house was completely gone before the fire department got there and according to the family the engines were there is record time to get through the four miles of gravel backroads from Palmer Canyon Road.
“Quincy’s got a cabin not far from the house as it was burning,” Kerry said. “The winds were blowing live embers that looked like tracer bullets into the side of the cabin. We thank God the fire department got there fast or we may have lost the cabin too. The fire department came and foamed the side of the cabin. The embers actually started trees on fire on the other side of the cabin.”
Quincy who narrowly escaped a rattlesnake this summer and now the fire said, “My sister says that me and my cellphone have nine lives.”
The ignition point of the fire is still not known and may not be discovered for weeks. The family is grateful for the show of support for the community and for those who have helped out during this disaster. They also have a very positive outlook having lost their possessions but retaining their gratefulness that they got out alive. They lost possessions, but will never lose the memories.
“They’re only possessions,” Clara said. “I have spent my life sitting in other people’s furniture because it belonged to grandma and it belonged to auntie and then you decorate around it. I don’t have to do that anymore. I did have over 1,000 books in my library because I love books. And I had collected all of the Newbery Award winners. I only had a few more to collect. It was upsetting and the other day Tony (Nichols) comes in with a bag full of Newbery Award winning books. People have gone about and tried to find every Newbery book they could find.”
The community has come together and a GoFundMe page has been set up at First State Bank and a drop-off spot at the Wheatland Country Store. The family credits many in the community, including Jamie and Kristi Rietz who have been on-site helping with the cleanup each day.
“You don’t understand how wonderful your community is until something like that happens,” Clara said. “I was a hoarder. I had everything anybody ever wanted and my oldest son Charlie said to me, ‘isn’t it liberating mom?’”
Kerry took the loss hard as he said that two days after the fire, he couldn’t stop crying and said that with every moment something else goes back through his mind.
“I’ve never seen my father cry,” Quincy said. “I’m 45 years old and I’ve never seen tears in his eyes. The bright spot and there are some is that the dogs, the cat, the ducks, the chicken all made it.”
As time goes by and they look to rebuild, keeping the original chimney that wasn’t destroyed in the fire, Kerry as the patriarch of the family says with a smile, “well, my eyebrows are growing back in nicely.”
A family of faith who lost everything, but gained a new perspective on life and living will persevere and rebuild and as the quote says which is apropos not for the possessions, but for their lives, “what they lost in the fire, they will find in the ashes.”