Clark fire leaves lives upended

By: 
Leo Wolfson with the Cody Enterprise, from the Wyoming News Exchange

Clark fire leaves lives upended

 

By Leo Wolfson

Cody Enterprise

Via Wyoming News Exchange

 

CODY — “That’s 25 years of my life just sucked away in a flame and a wind,” Becky Flowers said.

Material items like televisions, couches and food can always be replaced. Family heirlooms like photographs, antique rifles, hand-made furniture and decades of memories are irreplaceable.

“All the family stuff is there from like several generations,” Roy Flowers said, “and you can’t replace that.”

Becky, 75, and her stepson Roy Flowers, 57, lost their home in the Clark fire last week. Roy’s aunt and uncle Melvin and Rose Powell, who live next door, also lost their house. 

The Flowerses lost their trailer and a home Roy Flowers was building next door that was nearly completed. Since this building was incomplete, it was classified as an outbuilding. If it had been counted as a home, it would have been one of four residences lost to the fire that burned 300 acres from Nov. 15-16.

“Between their (Powells’) house and my house the entire family’s stuff was collected there,” Roy Flowers said.

Becky’s daughter Nikki Flowers will likely never forget the feeling of seeing her family’s property for the first time since the fire swept through their Clark property last week.

“When I came around the corner and the mailboxes on the road … and there was nothing there,” she said. “It literally took my breath away.”

By the time the electricity went out, Roy Flowers said they could see fire on the ridge above their home on 95 Crossfire Trail. The quickly moving fire had a direct path to their home that was located at the end of a valley.

They didn’t have time to grab much more than clothes, medication and money before getting out the door. The rest was gone in smoke – decades of irreplaceable family artifacts and cherished memories. 

After a second warning call from the Park County Sheriff’s Office, Mel Powell said he knew it was time to leave his house. As Powell, 84, was pulling their vehicle out of the garage, the fire could already be seen burning through the structure’s west wall.

They peeled out of the driveway “in a blaze of glory,” he said, and took just a few seconds to get one last look at the home in which they had built a lifetime of memories.

“If we’d been in that house we’d have been dead within 5-10 minutes,” Powell said.

Their gaze was halted by the merciless wind raining hot ash on them as they tried to look on the destruction from afar, the air rife with the fire’s heat on an already unseasonably warm November night. 

In a manner of minutes it was all gone, an especially quick burn due to the home’s complete wood construction.

“It was all wood … the drywall never did anything for me,” Powell said of the home he started building himself in 1996. “With all that wood and being 25 years old that was all dry, it went in a hurry.”

The howling wind sent the fire on an unpredictable path, leaving some homes inexplicably unscathed, and others torched to the ground. Powell said the fire burned on both the north and south sides of his neighbor’s trailer but left the structure untouched. 

In contrast, nearly everything he and Rose Powell, 81, owned was burned to a crisp. Even a supposedly fire-proof safe was melted to the ground.

The Flowerses’ trailer was completely gone, aside from beams used in the kitchen that were found on the ground.

“It was just melted into the ground,” Becky Flowers said.

Her Hyundai Tucson was charred down to its frame, carrying a resemblance, she said, to vehicles caught in the crossfire of war-torn battles. 

“Like the end of WWII, in movies you see the old car chassis sitting around,” Becky Flowers said.

The tin surface of the trailers and Roy’s glass canning jars melted into puddles, demonstrating the sheer ferocity Mother Nature can strike with. Tires that Roy had stacked in the shed were barely recognizable, only the steel belt rings remaining.


“It’s apocalyptic looking,” Nikki Flowers said. The Flowerses’ home was still smoldering more than 24 hours after the fire last Wednesday afternoon.

The Powells also likely lost four cats in the blaze, but Mel said he is grateful they at least got their three other pets out.

He was also lucky enough to have insurance on their home, but the Flowerses lacked coverage for their 1960s-era trailer and new home being built. 

“It was roofed and closed, the stuff was in it to finish it, we were just at the point of hooking it up for electricity,” Roy Flowers said of the new home, “so we could get appraised and insured.”

They also lost another trailer they were using for storage. 

But by Saturday the mother and step-son were able to smile and talk candidly about the event. Becky Flowers said the significance of the event had not set in immediately after the fire and said she still catches herself expecting to return to her home someday and find her home as she last left it.

“This is a new journey that starts now,” Roy Flowers said. “There’s no point dwelling on it, we’re lucky.”

The family suffered no injuries in the fire. The fire claimed one life, 61-year old Clark resident Cindy Ruth. 

Although Clark is not an area traditionally known for fire risks, its recurrent high-speed winds and dry landscape make it an incredibly dangerous spot if sparks do ignite.

Wind speeds were officially clocked at more than 100 mph and reportedly as high as 124 mph by some residents, creating a perfect condition for a horrific fire. A much smaller fire that went through Clark about 13 years ago registered wind speeds at 98 mph, Powell said.

Mel Powell, a Vietnam veteran who also worked in Panama in 1964 during the anti-American riots, said he had never experienced an event like this before. 

“I think with all the stuff we’ve dealt with in the past, this is another learning curve,” he said.

A 1955 Cody High School grad, he went back to school at Northwest College in 1988 and earned an associate’s degree in Business Management. He and Rose returned to Wyoming after short stints in Missouri and California and have stayed put ever since, building onto Roy Flowers’ grandfather’s small cabin. 

The Powells are staying with their nephew and niece in Frannie. Powell is pessimistic he’ll ever live on the Clark property again, but said his son Chris Powell may continue the legacy and build anew there. Roy Flowers said he’s committed to going back as well.

A total of $3,570 had been raised for the family from 31 donations as of Monday morning through a GoFundMe fundraiser Nikki Flowers set up for the family.

The Flowerses are Cody Regional Health employees and are now staying at one of the hospital’s residential units nearby free of charge for an indefinite amount of time. 

“The hospital has been unbelievable,” Roy Flowers said.

Ironically, Roy, who is a materials supervisor at the hospital, was responsible for buying all the furnishings for the home he is now living in. He also was born in the former West Park Hospital just a few hundred feet away from where he is now resting his head.

Cody Cupboard also stepped up to donate food to  the mother and son, and the American Red Cross provided a check to the Powells, who also received a money advance from Walmart. 

Roy Flowers and Powell said due to the mass response from the community to their cause, they no longer need any more donations.

“So far, I’ve met more nice people in a week than I’ve met in my life,” Powell said. “Gives a little more faith in mankind.”

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