Oak Hill Fire Remembrance Day began with neighbors parading from Lilly Henric’s restored house to Windmill Run Park.
By Will Atkins
Windmill Run Park came alive on Sunday, April 29, with the sounds of music, children playing and neighbors chatting over tables loaded with potluck surprise dishes of everything from bean salad to beef enchiladas, as neighbors came together in a “Day of Remembrance” of the April 17, 2011 Oak Hill Wildfire.
The fire destroyed 11 homes and damaged 10 others, but became a rallying cause for the neighborhoods of Scenic Brook and South Windmill Run. Many of those attending the festivities in the park Sunday are good friends now—having met each other in the aftermath of the fire and the year-long effort of neighbors helping neighbors to rebuild.
The Oak Hill Wildfire Relief Committee (OHWRC) was formed by a group representing the two affected neighborhoods, and rebuilding Lilly Henric’s home on Scenic Brook became one of its prime objectives. Henric lost everything in the fire, had no insurance, but discovered that she did have neighbors determined to help her.
Those neighbors were recognized and honored at the gathering in the park Sunday.
“A couple of teams did some amazing work,” said OHWRC co-chair Karon Rilling. “There has not been one day in the last 365 that they have not been involved with the rebuilding of Lilly’s home. I know this because I have the 450 emails that have documented their work.” She then presented special plaques to Amy Harper, John Pfannkuche and Amber Kubik to acknowledge and thank them for their “selfless and sustained response in spearheading the rebuilding of Lilly Henric’s home after the Oak Hill wildfire April 17 2011.”
Rilling also awarded special plaques to Gary Hunt and Rosie Beck, who she described as: “The other heroic team that has worked every single day of this last 365…making things happen, whether it was the physical work or the networking work.” She commended them “for extraordinary service to our neighborhoods in the aftermath of the Oak Hill fire.” Rilling added that thanks to the efforts of all involved, Henric could finally be back in her home in a few weeks.
All of the other members of OHWRC were presented with medals of recognition, and Rilling thanked Tom Thayer for his efforts in planting three trees at the edge of the park where the fire came close, in remembrance of the pets and wildlife lost in the fire.
Also on hand for the occasion were Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Gary Brown, representing County Commissioner Karen Huber. Leffingwell presented a proclamation recognizing April 29th, 2012 as “Oak Hill Fire Remembrance Day in Austin Texas.” The document read in part: “disasters do have a silver lining as evidenced by the many acts of kindness that have been shown to the residents of Scenic Brook and South Windmill Run.”
Brown announced that the county would work together with those affected by the fire to establish an educational kiosk that recognizes the wildfire disaster and those associated with the response and recovery. It will also contain wildfire preparedness information so that park users now and in the future can be mindful of their own roles in being prepared.
Several residents affected by the fire expressed their thanks to the crowd. Carol Cespedes, whose home was destroyed in the fire, spoke also for her husband Benny and said: “We love this neighborhood. This is a special place…Anything we needed, this neighborhood was up to.”
Finally, Lilly Henric shyly inched up to the microphone and began speaking haltingly through her tears: “There are no words. If you could put everything good, everything beautiful, into one phrase, put it into ‘thank you.’ …It’s been a heck of a year. And this is one heck of a community. And I give you my heart.”
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