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Range fire in Washington destroys members’ homes

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BENTON CITY, Wash. — Members gathered with neighbors and friends here in the aftermath of a range fire that burned more than 190,000 acres and destroyed several homes, including those of four LDS families.

"We were very lucky that no one died in the fire," said Ann Autery of the Benton City 1st Ward during a telephone interview. Sister Autery and her husband, Dan, were one of the four families in the ward to lose their trailer homes in the fire during the last week of June. The other three homes lost were owned by Kelvin and Teresa Church, Ken and Cathey Elliott, and Irene Peck. Sister Autery spoke tenderly of Brother and Sister Church, who lost a newborn baby from complications at birth two weeks after the fire.

Continuing, Sister Autery described the way the community of more than 2,000 people pulled together. "Heavenly Father does provide. He takes care of us. Even though you have the trials, He still helps you get through them."

She related that ward members have been working at the site of the burned trailers to rebuild the pump houses and generally clean up. "The community has been helpful, too. It's a smaller community, and people have been very helpful, very giving, very understanding."

A neighbor may have saved Sister Autery's life. When the fire began racing toward their street, they and others began evacuating. Her husband hopped in one vehicle, her daughter, who had been visiting, jumped in her car, and Sister Autery jumped in their other car. But when she went to pull her keys from her purse, she discovered she had the wrong purse.

"I got out of the car and started walking down the street. I had my little satchel of genealogy. That's all I had and the clothes on my back."

Her husband, upon realizing she was not following him, had begun yelling for her but "the smoke was so thick I could not see him at the truck," she recalled.

Petrified, but feeling a calmness, she felt prompted to go to an adjacent alfalfa field, which had been cut the week before by helpful ward members. It was then a neighbor in his car heard her cries for help. "He rescued me," she said.

Sister Autery not only expressed gratitude for their lives, but also because she listened to promptings to take her basic family history records with her, gathered during 40 years of research.