It was late Wednesday night when screaming smoke alarms woke Billie Estridge from a sound sleep on the couch. The air was thick with smoke as she made a dash to the door, cats in tow. Still disoriented from waking suddenly and suffering slightly from smoke inhalation, Estridge stood in amazement and watched helplessly as flames engulfed her home. It felt like a dream.
>Prineville's unique ability to help people in crisis has once again saved the day for two local families
It took only minutes for the structure she'd called home for more than seven years to be burnt to the ground, taking with it everything she'd accumulated during her lifetime. The only personal items she was able to escape with were the clothes she was wearing at the time.
The fire department had yet to arrive, when through the smoke stepped neighbors with shovels, offering the first line of support in what would become a contingency of helping hands which stretches well into the future.
A week later, not much remains at the Estridge ranch on O'Neil Highway though sheep graze in the nearby fields and several outbuildings, untouched by the fire, look pretty much as they always have. Estridge gazes forlornly at what remains of the house, but says she will recover and rebuild because she loves where she lives.
"Yeah, I lost my stuff, but I've still got my life, my pets, my livestock and my memories," she said. "I lost things that can't be replaced but I'll always carry the memory that was attached to those things, so in a sense they aren't really lost."
Returning to town from the drive out to the ranch, Estridge waves enthusiastically at a passing motorist explaining that these folks were among those at the front lines to offer support.
Upon hearing about the situation these people, whom Estridge previously knew only in passing, basically scooped her up and took her home offering her a place to stay for the first couple of days following the fire.
In the week since the devastating event people have stepped forward to help out in every way imaginable, including anonymously donating food and supplies; a neighbor offering a place to stay; neighbors feeding livestock and doing the chores _ without even being asked. In addition, the electricity was shut off as a result of the fire, so Estridge was concerned with how to draw water from the well to feed livestock. Shortly after sharing her concern with someone else, a water truck was parked in her yard for her use.
"I still can't believe it. I'm so thankful. I can't imagine having to go through this without having this support base that we have here in Prineville," she said. "It changes how you think about your community, you don't take it for granted quite so much."
Almost exactly 12 hours later, another Prineville family was about to undergo a very similar experience.
At 9:45 a.m. on Thursday morning Cheryl Huntley and her daughter left for a doctor's appointment. About 20 minutes later a Prineville man driving down Juniper Street noticed black smoke coming from the Huntley home. Through his efforts the Huntley home may well have been saved from total loss.
"It all happened in about a half hour's time," explained Jay Huntley, "The real hero to this story, or angel as I call him, Marty Breedlove was driving by. He said that his dad was a firefighter so when he saw the black smoke he knew it wasn't a chimney fire, and he called 911."
Breedlove then turned the water hose which is located outside the front door onto the kitchen area where the smoke was coming from. He then went around the house doing what he could to help control the fire, making sure no one was in the house. Huntley indicated that he believes that if it hadn't have been for these efforts the house would have burned to the ground.
As it turns out the house sustained serious fire damage destroying most of the family's belongings. Much of what is recoverable was in rooms away from the kitchen where the fire started and down low near the floor.
The Huntleys have been a part of the Prineville community for just over a year. Jay is the pastor of the Prineville Church of Christ. The congregation of that church, along with many other churches in town, have pitched in to help the family recover.
"We have had responses from people that we know and people that we don't know making generous offers," he said. "That's what is really making it possible for us to heal." he said. "We know that the Lord's in control, and we've never lost faith, so spiritually we're fine. But still, losing all of the valuables that can't be replaced ... it's like somebody died. That's where the real devastation is.
"But, because our congregation and so many people in town have been so kind to us, it hasn't even allowed us to think about the bad part. So, it's been remarkable. Really remarkable."
Huntley said as a minister for a local church it has been particularly interesting and heartening for him to experience the outreaching of support offered from many of the local churches crossing all lines of denomination. Individual ministers and congregations have stepped forward to offer comfort as well as practical support during the last week.
As with any disaster, the American Red Cross was one of the first organizations to offer practical help in the way of money for clothes, food and shelter.
The Huntleys received enough money to buy clothes for the family. As soon as the folks at the local Emporium found out what they were going through, the Huntleys were offered additional discounts making it easier for the family to clothe themselves with the money provided by the Red Cross.
Currently they are staying at Rustler's Roost Motel, which Jay says is also a gift from God, but it's only a temporary home for the family. After a retired couple living in Prineville heard about their loss, they invited the Huntleys to stay at their home, which will be vacant over the next few months as the couple travels during the winter.
"What a wonderful thing," Jay said. "They're just like a grandma and grandpa that we've never known. They took us all in and hugged us and made us feel right at home." The Huntleys hope to return to their home in about three months after extensive remodeling has been completed on the house.
Concerned members of the community have opened accounts at the Community First Bank to benefit both the Huntley family and Billie Estridge.
Anyone wishing to make a cash donation toward their recovery from losses not covered by insurance may do so at the Prineville branch to: The Billie Estridge Fire Relief Fund and/or The Jay Huntley Fire Relief Fund.