Last Sunday, Larry Cook was working in his orchard in Erath County when he thought he saw clouds go by.
But then he smelled the smoke of the Big L wildfire.
“I stood up, I turned and looked – and a mile-wide ball of fire was headed our way. It was huge,” said Cook, who lives in Bluff Dale, about 60 miles southwest of Fort Worth.
He said he stuck a piece of rebar in the ground with a flag on it. That's when he realized realized the wind was blowing right toward them.
Cook warned his wife, Leona. They grabbed everything they could and ran for their lives to a local shelter.
By the time they left, the field near their home was blazing.
“It wasn’t like a little fire in the field, it was rolling hot and it got bigger as it came over,” he said. “Never in my life have I experienced that type of fire.”
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During the evacuation, a complete stranger took them into her home. More people from the community rallied around them with food, clothes, prayers and support.
“We were strangers to her and she took us in and helped us out. She said her house was ours for as long as we wanted to stay. That was just beautiful. That’s amazing to us,” Larry Cook said through tears. “This community has been a blessing to us. I’m just so thankful that we’re living in a community like this.”
But come Monday morning, they found out they lost everything.
The couple was living in a temporary apartment on their property while building a brand new home for themselves. It burned to the ground.
“We felt very thankful that we didn’t get caught in it,” said Larry Cook. “The main thing is, I have my wife. Thank God we had time to get out of here. Who needs a TV or anything? The world is bigger than just what you have.”
Furniture, appliances, clothes, pictures, memories, the orchard trees they worked hard to grow – all burned to ashes.
Leona Cook had traveled the world for the Air Force and had collected memorabilia from countries like Japan and Turkey. Those are gone, too.
But they’re alive. And they have each other.
Despite everything, Leona says the community and their faith have lifted them through this difficult time.
“It’s trusting in Him and where he wants to lead us,” she said. “It’s not always going to be butterflies and beautiful flowers. We’re going to go through some tough times. But if we hold onto Him, he’s always going to open the door for us and provide for us.”
Currently, the couple is living with Larry's relatives and has received help from the American Red Cross.
The couple said despite their loss, the blessings they've experienced are abundant.
Just months ago, Leona had overcome from a difficult battle with COVID-19 in November. She was in intensive care and didn't think she would make it.
And incredibly, the construction for a new home they were building on the property was untouched, so they will continue to forge ahead and build their home.
“The Lord is right, He does have things covered. And He’s got us covered. We had no clothes except what we had on our backs Sunday evening," Larry said. "And by Monday, people started helping us and we had clothes and food. We were taken care of and every time I’ve had a negative thought, God says, 'I got you covered.'"
Fire Threat Continues
Wildfires and tornadoes have wreaked havoc across North Texas over the last seven days.
Just as families like the Cooks are picking up the pieces, there's another huge risk for wildfires this weekend.
"We're not out of the woods. I've never seen a season like this with such potential,” said Larry Cook. “Thank God for this nice rain that we had, that helped out here tremendously. There were spots in the woods that were still smoking and still flaming up."
The combination of warm temperatures pushing 90 degrees, gusty winds and low humidity will provide the ingredients for an elevated risk of wildfires in North Texas in the coming days.
On Saturday and especially Sunday, there is an elevated risk for fires along and west of Interstate 35W.
It will be very important to avoid any outdoor burning this weekend. Also, refrain from activities that could start a fire.
- Do not throw lit cigarettes on the ground.
- Do not drag tow chains on the ground.
- Do not park over tall grass.
- Do not leave a campfire unattended.
This concern may carry over into the start of the workweek, but the chance for rain returns Tuesday night into Wednesday.
At last check as of Friday morning, the Big L Fire is currently 90% contained. The nearby Eastland Complex Fire, which killed a sheriff deputy assisting in evacuations, is currently 80% contained.