Adriel Gómez, 2, plays as his mother, Elva, tells a story of the Almeda Fire and loss of the family home. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Adriel Gómez, 2, plays as his mother, Elva, tells a story of the Almeda Fire and loss of the family home. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Jairo Gómez, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Medford, heard on the news that a fire was spreading from Ashland, about 8 miles south of his home in Phoenix. “I was following the news on my phone and hoping they would give us the evacuation alert,” he said.

Sept. 8 was his day off, and he was hoping to repair his 19-year-old car to make sure he had reliable transport for work.

The evacuation alert never came. But as flames and dense smoke advanced, relatives called his wife, Elva, with increasing urgency. She walked outside to see clouds of smoke and packed traffic on Highway 99.

Faced with his wife’s anguish, Jairo asked the three children to grab blankets and their school bags. Elva, after gathering the most important papers, took her elderly father and the children by the hand and left the house.

“I'm going to keep working on the car,” Jairo insisted, downplaying the fire. Elva, heading to Medford, tried to calm the children who were weeping in fear over leaving their father behind.

His goal was to change the gaskets on the engine. Gusts of wind had slammed the hood closed twice. At about 4:30 p.m., he looked up from his work.

“That’s when I see that monster over there behind the house,” Jairo said in Spanish. “Huge! A black thing. I start walking toward my house.” He had been working under a tree for shade and had not noticed the falling ash.

“The flames are in your yard!” a neighbor yelled.

Jairo ran and pushed his car as far away as his strength would allow.

“I could see the giant flames like a monster devouring everything in seconds,” he said. “The barn, the trees, the neighbors’ trailer houses, everything disappeared in seconds.”

Jairo and Elva are part of an extensive Hispanic community residing in Phoenix and Talent, where their brothers, uncles and cousins were also affected by the Almeda Fire. About 1,000 other Hispanic families lost their homes.

Many of the families lived in manufactured homes and trailers.

“He called me crying that the trailer had already burned,” said Elva, sobbing as she recalled the day her house of 17 years was reduced to ashes.

Jairo was able to escape the flames. Hours later he was reunited with his family, his sister and a friend. In four vehicles they drove to Grants Pass, spending the night in a parking lot.

Not long before the fire, Elva’s mother had died.

“My father cries when he remembers Mom’s things, especially a crucifix that his father gave him on the day of the funeral,” she said, while Adriel, her 2-year-old son, tried to comfort her with his toy horse.

“My dad loves the fields and crops and I felt blessed to provide him with a space where he had created his own garden with corn, fruits and vegetables,” she added.

Jairo returned a few days later to the rubble. He was overjoyed to find nine hens and a rooster still alive. His car also was in good condition. “It was a real blessing,” he said.

Jairo and Elva are grateful for the Medford mobile home that a cousin offered temporarily. The couple thank God for the kindness, solidarity and compassion received from so many people, the church and many organizations.

The Gómez family has a begun an account to help them rebuild: