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Lost but not forgotten: Family looks to rebuild their 'safe place' after Bowers Fire

Posted at 4:30 PM, Jun 25, 2024

HUACHUCA CITY, Ariz. (KGUN) — "I was able to see him through the ambulance window, and that was the last time I saw him,” Lorena Russell said.

It’s been two months since the Bowers Fire burned 28 acres and killed Russell's father in Huachuca City. Neil Edward Hesse, 81, was working on a bumper outside of his home when sparks ignited flames on a nearby tree. The fire quickly spread to the entire house.

“They had a hose right there, but it was just so fast," Russell said. "They couldn't stop it.”

Lost but not forgotten: Family looks to rebuild their 'safe place' after Bowers Fire
Lost but not forgotten: Family looks to rebuild their 'safe place' after Bowers Fire

She told KGUN that her dad went into the house to call her and warn her about the fire, which caused his clothes to catch fire. The flames left him with serious burns. Hesse died at a Tucson hospital from his injuries.

Russell's family has own land by the Babocomari River in Huachuca City since the 1970s. Many family members, including Russell, lived on the property.

“It's just been a place where we all can come and be safe,” she said.

The fire destroyed multiple structures and trailers, all of which housed memories from the family's history,

Now, all that's left is rubble and remnants of many memories.

Lost but not forgotten: Family looks to rebuild their 'safe place' after Bowers Fire
Lost but not forgotten: Family looks to rebuild their 'safe place' after Bowers Fire

“We found some more jewelry boxes and some things here," Russell said. "There hasn't been a lot that survived, but a few treasures here and there.”

For the family, all they can do is move forward “one step at a time" because that’s what her father would want.

“They wouldn’t want us to be miserable forever,” Russell said.

The family was allowed back to their property 24 hours after the fire, but Russell didn't go back for days.

“(It was) utter devastation, just everything that my parents put so much into gone," she said. "It was hard to see.”

The family had a "fire sale" earlier this month, that allowed people to take things, for free, from the site. Russell said they wanted to to do this so that people could benefit from what was left, and it didn't just go into the trash. More than half of the stuff was taken during that one event.

Lost but not forgotten: Family looks to rebuild their 'safe place' after Bowers Fire
Lost but not forgotten: Family looks to rebuild their 'safe place' after Bowers Fire

The next step, is to finish the clean up and restore their "safe haven."

“It's going to be hard to rebuild, but we are determined to carry on the dream of our grandparents and our parents that we have this place as a safe haven for the family in generations to come,” Russell said.

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Alexis Ramanjulu is a reporter in Cochise County for KGUN 9. She began her journalism career reporting for the Herald/Review in Sierra Vista, which she also calls home. Share your story ideas with Alexis by emailing alexis.ramanjulu@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook.