Pedro Rodriguez, 6, climbs a tree at Sacred Heart Parish in Medford. His family home in Phoenix was destroyed by fire Sept. 8. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Pedro Rodriguez, 6, climbs a tree at Sacred Heart Parish in Medford. His family home in Phoenix was destroyed by fire Sept. 8. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
MEDFORD — Like many who lost their homes in the rampaging Almeda Fire Sept. 8, the Rodriguez family of Sacred Heart Parish heard about the approaching peril not from an official source but from friends and relatives. The Rodriguez children noticed smoke and had been monitoring social media for evacuation orders, but saw none.

Priscilla Rodriguez, the mother, finished work at Rogue Credit Union in Medford and came home to Coleman Creek Estates mobile home park to see a neighbor filling his truck and preparing to flee. He told Priscilla he had heard flames were charging toward Phoenix.

In addition to their own five children, ages 4 to 15, Priscilla and husband Hector were housing a niece and nephew who are planning to attend Oregon State University.

Priscilla rounded up the whole crew and told them to grab blankets and pillows. She gathered the family Social Security cards and birth certificates and a few clothes, thinking she would be back home soon. They left the house at 3:20 p.m., just hours before the park went up in an inferno so hot that even papers in fire-resistant safes were turned to ash.

In one of thousands of acts of compassion during the fires, the Rodriguez family saw a distressed woman — a stranger — near the street as they were driving away. The woman said she could not drive and her husband could not return for her and her children. The Rodriguez family reshuffled in their vehicles and made room. The niece had to be brave and drive one of the cars, bringing the women and children north to safety. The Rodriguez’s 15-year-old son, José, is a new driver; he also was called on to pilot one of the vehicles full of evacuees from the fire zone as a glowing wall of smoke approached from the south.

Hector Rodriguez, father of the family and a construction worker, was on a job in Ashland when the fire went on its rampage. He tried desperately to get home, but all routes were blocked. The owner of the house where he was working offered a spare room, but when the road opened later that night, Hector rushed to his family, by that time sheltering with a friend in Central Point. But another fire had gone out of control there and the family had to evacuate for the second time on that fearful day. They went farther north to Grants Pass, where Priscilla’s co-worker had offered refuge to the family of nine.

That night, Priscilla saw a Facebook livestream showing Phoenix ablaze. “That is when I knew we lost our house,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.

All 120 units in the park were lost, including the house the Rodriguez family had called home for 11 years.

The home was not insured.

“Everything I had is just ashes now,” Priscilla said.

The most painful losses are the irreplaceable collection of family photos and the love-filled art projects the children made years ago and that a tender-hearted mother saved. Priscilla also mourns the loss of baby clothes and a first Communion dress she had preserved for decades.

“You can replace appliances and toys, but not the sentimental things,” she said.

The family has since moved in with a relative in Medford.

“We are trying to find a house and figure out school,” said Priscilla.

Father Moises Kumulmac emerged after a Mass Sept. 19 to find the family in the parish courtyard. Pandemic aside, he hugged them and offered words of comfort. The priest, still wearing vestments, spoke and listened for a half hour.