MEDFORD, Ore. — The wildfire approached quickly, with little warning, engulfing the home of Yesenia Solis and dozens of others in Coleman Creek Estates mobile home park.
The quick onset of flames Sept. 8 caused such a panic that Solis, 31, miscarried her unborn child.
Still, Solis said after Mass at Sacred Heart Church Sept. 19 she felt blessed that she and her family, which includes her aging parents and younger siblings, survived the inferno. The home was uninsured.
Solis and her husband face formidable pressure to find a home not only for their two children, but for her aging parents and younger siblings.
Asked in what way this all qualifies as a blessing, Solis put her hand to her heart. “We have to look forward now,” she said. “What else can we do?”
Leaning on her is her 18-year-old sister, Nayeli, who responded, “Well, at least we have nothing to lose anymore.”
At that, the siblings erupted in laughter. They pulled in their mother, Luz, for a hug — three resilient women guffawing and crying simultaneously.
The church community is allowing the family to stay in an old parish-owned house through October, when plans call for its demolition. Solis and her husband, grateful for the hospitality, have good jobs at the fruit and gift company Harry and David and expect they can qualify for a home loan.
Before the fire swept through, Solis and her family grabbed important documents and the dogs. They fully expected to return because the fire seemed far enough away. “I didn’t think it would reach our house,” Nayeli told the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.
After evacuating, Nayeli drove to get supplies and saw bright orange clouds over Phoenix, a half-mile south of the mobile home park. “I told my mom, ‘Our house is gone,’” she said.
“We lost everything,” Yesenia Solis added. The family had tried to buy home insurance years ago, but no one would approve them. Owners of older mobile homes often have that problem with insurance companies.
The loss of the house has hit the sisters’ 70-year-old father especially hard. Santos Solis brought his family to Phoenix 21 years ago and built up the house. The family had to convince him to evacuate.
Nayeli, who helps her mother clean houses, misses space of her own. “I miss my room,” she said. “I want to go home. I don’t wish this on anyone.”
Solis misses the photos of her two children but is most pained at the child she lost.
“I told God, ‘You can take my couch, you can take my car, you can take my house, but don’t take my baby,’” she said. “But I guess if he’d been born, we wouldn’t even have a house for him.”
Another parish family living in Coleman Creek Estates faced a similar ordeal in the wind-swept conflagration.
Priscilla Rodriguez, her five children and a niece and a nephew were forced to flee quickly at a moment’s notice. Her husband, a construction worker, was on the job at the time.
They heard about the approaching peril not from an official source but from friends and relatives.
The Rodriguez children noticed smoke and had been monitoring social media for evacuation orders, but saw none.
Priscilla finished work at Rogue Credit Union in Medford and arrived at home to see a neighbor filling his truck and preparing to evacuate as flames charged toward Phoenix.
She rounded up the whole crew and told them to grab blankets and pillows while she gathered important documents and a few clothes. They left the house at 3:20 p.m., just hours before the park went up in an inferno so hot that even papers in fire-resistant safes were turned to ash.
In one of thousands of acts of compassion during the fires, the Rodriguez family saw a distressed woman — a stranger — near the street as they were driving away. The woman said she could not drive and her husband could not return for her and her children.
The Rodriguez family reshuffled in their vehicles and made room for her. The niece had to be brave and drive one of the cars, bringing the women and children north to safety. The Rodriguez’s 15-year-old son, Jose, is a new driver, and also was called on to pilot one of the vehicles full of evacuees from the fire zone.
Hector, a construction worker, was on a job in Ashland, southeast of Phoenix, when the fire approached. He tried desperately to get home, but all routes were blocked. The owner of the house where he was working offered a spare room, but when the road opened later that night, Hector rushed to his family, which by that time were sheltering with a friend in Central Point, north of Medford.
But another out-of-control fire approached and the family had to evacuate for the second time on that fearful day. They went farther north to Grants Pass, where Priscilla’s co-worker had offered refuge.
That night, Priscilla saw a Facebook livestream showing Phoenix ablaze.
“That is when I knew we lost our house,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.
The home where the family had lived for 11 years was not insured.
The most painful losses are the irreplaceable collection of family photos and the love-filled art projects the children made years ago. Priscilla also mourns the loss of baby clothes and a first Communion dress she had preserved for decades.
“You can replace appliances and toys, but not the sentimental things,” she told the Catholic Sentinel.
The family has since moved in with a relative in Medford.
“We,” Priscilla said, “are trying to find a house and figure out school.”