In their words: Responders, residents recall fire

Brian Victor, who lives off Highway 467 just before the Roosevelt County line, said Sunday’s fire came within inches of his home.

Victor said he and most of his family were in Clovis around 1:30 p.m. the day of the fire, preparing to go to the movies when he received a phone call telling him his home area was being evacuated. He said his son, Taylor, 18, was at home alone sleeping after having worked all night.

“What I did was started heading this way and called my son,” Victor said. “I told him to get out of the house. He ran upstairs and said there was already smoke and flames everywhere.”

Taylor thought the house was already on fire, because it was filled with smoke.

“I was scared,” Taylor said. “As soon as I opened the garage, I saw our whole pasture was on fire.”

Brian Victor said as he neared the Roosevelt County line on Highway 467, the road was blocked by police officers and they would not let him through to his home due to safety issues. He said firefighters could not reach his home due to the flames.

“That’s where I was panicking,” Victor said. “They couldn’t get to (Taylor) either.”

Taylor said he jumped in his car with the family dogs and headed down the highway. He said he could not see anything in front of him for the first three to four miles he was driving.

“There was nothing but black smoke. I was terrified,” Taylor said. “When I cleared the smoke and saw police and my dad waiting for me, I got so happy.”

Brian Victor said he felt relieved to find his son was safe and knows it is a miracle their home survived.

“It was by the grace of God,” he said. “There were five other structures right next to us that burned to the ground.”

One of those structures was the home of Steve and Alisha Robertson, who live on the same land as Victor and work for him.

Victor said the couple had spent three years building and adding to their home, and had no insurance.

Alisha Robertson said she and her husband were just arriving home when they saw all of the smoke around their property. She said her husband began to try to put out the fire.

“Within three minutes after we saw smoke, the flames were burning our land,” Robertson said. “It came so fast. It was scary.”

Robertson said the police sent her family away from their house towards Clovis and began to fight the fire themselves. She said she hoped the firefighters could save her home, but found out later the house was gone.

“It was so hard to lose everything, especially after we had worked so hard on it,” she said. “It was all gone and I felt hopeless, like it was all over.”

She said her family has been very blessed with how much help and kindness they have received from local communities. A trailer home has been donated to the family and food, supply and clothing donations are being taken at SOS Outlet in Portales.

• • •

Portales firefighters Floyd Hancock and Dathan Culpepper arrived at the Mitchell dairy on Highway 467 on Sunday afternoon to be greeted by flames.

“We pulled up there and the flames were too big for the little truck we were in,” Hancock said. “It was a lot more difficult because of terrain and wind.”

He said he and Culpepper tried to reach a man in a dairy loader truck but flames quickly sprung up between them, so they began to fight the fire from where they were rather than getting in front of it.

“It was moving so fast and the flames were so high, we couldn’t get around,” he said.

He said their truck became stuck in the sand at one point and had to be removed by a dairy loader. He said several other units also got stuck in sand Sunday night.

Firefighter Mike Inge said his first challenge with the fire was fighting a structure fire involving a trailer home on Highway 467 with Battalion Chief Mike Golden.

He said two trailer homes were put together and one of the trailers was on fire upon his arrival.

“That one trailer was pretty much a goner,” Inge said. “So instead of trying to save it, we just tried to keep the fire from spreading.”

He said nobody was at the residence during the fire, but wasn’t sure if it was currently in use by a tenant or owner.

He said they had almost zero visibility at the site but managed to save the other trailer from damage.

“You’re just pretty much out there on your own,” Inge said. “And that’s how it is for everybody.”

• • •

The Grubbs family of Roosevelt County had a close shave with Sunday’s fire.

Scott Grubbs said he and his wife had only been home for 30 minutes when they realized there was smoke nearing their house.

Grubbs said he stepped into the back yard to look and realized the fire was nearing them.

“I said I need to get clothes and he said, ‘It’s too late; it’s here,’” said his wife, Stacy. “It’s kind of amazing how tornadoes and fires dance. It burns another house and we were untouched.”

The Grubbs called to their two children to grab clothes.

“I thought he meant we were going to town,” said their 14-year-old daughter, Kaitlin. “Then I heard the panic in his voice.”

Grubbs told his family to leave the house and go into town while he stayed with their home awhile longer. Stacy said she and her children went to the Portales Wal-Mart and waited in the parking lot.

“I thought I’d lost my house and everything in it and my dad,” Kaitlin said. “I was sitting in the car crying.”

Grubbs said the fire came within 50 to 60 yards of their house.

“We feel lucky. I like to think God helped us out and everyone on this road,” Grubbs said. “Without the firefighters, it could have been a lot worse.”

“The fire departments were great,” Stacy added.

The Grubbs said the fire came even closer to their neighbor’s house, but firefighters also managed to keep their home from being burned.

“I think God was really taking care of us,” Stacy said. “It was coming from the west and went straight past us.”