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Finding heroes through the flames: Oregon woman starts over in Jonesborough

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

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A couple of weeks ago when Yvonne Webber started her work day as a bus monitor in Talent, Oregon, she wasn’t thinking that she’d lose her home, all her worldly possessions, and travel across the country to Jonesborough, Tennessee in just a few short days. 

“We saw this fluff coming down,” Yvonne said, thinking back to when the fire started. “My driver said, ‘We didn’t smell that over there.’ Then we see firetrucks and someone called him and said there was a fire … The planes and helicopters weren’t around. There were people out walking the streets. Nobody knew the fire was going to just take over.”

Little did Yvonne know that when she went back to her home to get her two dogs, it’d be the last time she saw her home still standing.

Yvonne sees what was once her home that is now just rubble.

“My son (Jeff) called and said, ‘Your house is gone.’ I’m thinking there’s still a house, that the house burned,” Yvonne said. “But no, it was down to nothing. It was the whole neighborhood. You can’t wrap your mind around the whole neighborhood. (The fire) just kept going.”

That’s when Yvonne’s son, Ken Webber, and his two daughters, Rachel and Haley Webber, made their way across the country from their home in Jonesborough to get Yvonne and her two dogs, all of which are now settling in Jonesborough for the time being. 

“The fire out there was so bad they weren’t allowing people to come in,” Ken said. “They had all the roads blocked. But I grew up there. I knew the backroads. So we went in. There was nothing that was going to stop me from getting in there.”

For Yvonne, she lost her possessions, but she also lost evidence of memories that also lived in her house of over 20 years.

“I lost my five kids’ everything,” Yvonne said. “My grandmother’s everything. My mom’s. But everybody else did too.”

One reason Yvonne wasn’t in her home when the fire was headed toward Talent was because she was helping load people at a nearby nursing home onto a bus to help them evacuate from the building.

The Webbers look through what was left of Yvonne’s house in Talent, Oregon.

“I didn’t know that was going to happen (at the nursing home),” Yvonne said. “I just tried to be happy with them and talk to them.”

For Haley, her nana’s actions made her a hero for many people during a devastating situation.

“Instead of going and getting things out of her house,” Haley said, “she was getting other people. Instead of getting luggage, she was getting them out.”

For Ken, it was hard to see his mom’s home burnt to the ground and family items such as his mother’s specially made grandfather clock burnt to nearly nothing. He also said it was surreal seeing his former home turned into unrecognizable ash.

“That’s hometown to me,” Ken said. “I grew up on those streets. I walked and rode bikes and we knew a lot of people that lived everywhere. So walking around and you can’t visualize where you’re at … it’s like, ‘I’ve been in this same spot before but I don’t recognize anything.’”

Yvonne’s story doesn’t end in ash, but it seems the next chapter might just start there.

Yvonne has been temporarily living in Ken’s Jonesborough home with his wife, two daughters and son (and a few large dogs that are a little scared of Bridget and Baby, Yvonne’s toy poodles). But the family is planning to look for a home for Yvonne to rent in Jonesborough.

“It’ll be a long hard road,” Ken said, “but there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.”

Ken said helping her start over will be tough, but he is as determined to help her now as he was when he and his daughters headed into Talent’s backroads to get his mom to a safer place.

“We don’t come from a wealthy background. We work for what we get and we make it,” Ken said. “Having to start over from scratch, it’s not going to be easy. But we’re the type of family that we don’t give up. 

“If it came down to I’ve got to sell my truck to get her into a house or something, the truck’s gone. I don’t mind doing that. Whatever it takes, we’re going to do it.”

The Webber family is currently putting together a room at their house for Yvonne and have also set up a GoFundMe page that can be found at https://gf.me/u/yx87kk.