By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
Randy Wilson broke the promise he made on his wife Debbie’s birthday.
Randy often tells his wife to hurry up or move faster. The day before her June 20 birthday, Debbie mentioned her birthday wish: for Randy to not tell her once on her birthday to hurry up.
Randy agreed, but ended up breaking the promise the next day.
For good reason, however: he discovered their house was on fire and wanted to get out alive.
The Wilsons were getting ready to go to lunch on June 20 when disaster struck. They had noticed what seemed to be a lot of flies, so Randy went to the back of the 115-year-old home just outside of Keizer to investigate.
“The fire was covering over the back porch and flames were coming out of the pump house,” Randy said. “The basement and attic were engulfed and we didn’t realize it. It was already beneath, above and behind us. I opened the back door and the windows blew out. I told her to hurry up. I got the dogs out. Within one minute, it was all we could do just to get out.”
Debbie, Randy and their two dogs got out safely, though Randy had to go back in a couple of times since one of the dogs kept going back in.
Several fire departments responded, but the relative remoteness of the location – the Wilsons live about a half-mile off Highway 99 – meant the initial responding hydrant truck had trouble getting water on the fast-spreading fire.
Making things worse, Randy had a number of lawn mowers and weed whackers full of fuel, which only accelerated the blaze. Worse yet, Randy had collected a number of firearms and knives plus inherited a large collection from both his father and grandfather. Emergency crews kept their distance in fear of the constant popping noises being live ammunition, though Randy said that was actually the transformer popping.
“I just watched my house burn down,” Randy said. “It was burning so quick, I couldn’t believe it. The house was 115 years old, so it was like dry hay. It was the worst monster you could face.”
The Wilsons were safe, but lost everything. A Randy and Debbie Wilson relief fund has been set up at Wells Fargo. Even a safe with valuables was charred, since the door wasn’t latched all the way. Among the items lost were two ice cream birthday cakes for that evening.
“The one thing I’m grateful for is it could have been worse. It could have been much worse. If I hadn’t gotten her out…” Randy said, choking back tears. “No one got hurt.”
At the time, Debbie was worried about Randy, especially since he had to keep getting the dog out of the burning house.
“In the moment, you don’t think about material things. Then after you do,” Debbie said, noting she hasn’t found her engagement or wedding rings – and doesn’t expect to. “I’m just grateful we weren’t hurt. The smoke was coming so fast, it was just a black wall. There was just no time to think.”
The Wilsons have set up tarps and pulled out charred items, including a sword used in the battle of Gettysburg and a Native American blanket that was more than 300 years old. Sometimes the reality hits hard.
“You do a task and you go to get the item,” Debbie said. “Then you realize it burned up. It’s unreal. One moment I’m fine, the next moment I’m a wreck.”
Friends and neighbors have been helping out, in particular longtime family friend Charles ‘Bob’ Rictor as well as next door neighbors Juan and Josie Benavidez, who let the Wilsons put a camper up in their yard.
Randy, 54, wants others to learn from their misfortune.
“Don’t store fuel in your machines. If you have bad wiring, be aware of it and fix it,” said Randy, who believes faulty wiring near the washer and dryer started the blaze. “I don’t want anyone else to go through this. And make sure you insure what you’ve got. We had no insurance. I didn’t realize how cheap insurance would have been.”
Randy, a former certified butcher and artist, doesn’t know what to do next.
“We’re screwed, just screwed,” he said. “I’ve never asked for help my entire life. For the first time in my life, I’d accept it.”
Even three weeks after the blaze, Randy still was in shock as he looked over the remnants.
“It was heaven; it’s hell now,” he said of the home. “We’re doing great one moment, then we’re on fire. Just be safe. You can have your paradise and your slice of heaven one day, then it can go to hell real quick. I don’t want nobody else to go through this. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”