BLUE RIVER, Ore. -- Tiffany Lemmerz remembers the night the Holiday Farm Fire broke out like it was yesterday. She was getting ready to go to work and called the fire department several times to make sure it was safe because she was leaving her 6-year-old daughter and her niece at home with her sister, who couldn’t drive.
Just minutes after she left, she got an alert that her family needed to get out immediately. With her sister on speakerphone, Lemmerz turned around and headed back home, toward the flames.
“She said the fire was everywhere. It already hit the back porch. I told her to soak the girl’s blankets. She said there was no way out at that point,” Lemmerz said.
As Lemmerz drove closer to home, she could hear the girls crying and the windows exploding in the background. She hit a vehicle but kept going.
“A tree came across the road and at that point, you’ve got less than two seconds to make the decision. Am I going to be stuck on this side of the fire, away from my family or am I going to be stuck on that side closer to them?” Lemmerz said.
Lemmerz said she gassed it, but eventually both of her passenger tires blew out and she had to stop. Her car limped a few more miles to the Blue River Bridge, where she got a ride from a Springfield firefighter. But the winds soon shifted and he was ordered to get out.
That's when Lemmerz said she got out and started running. She met up with an officer, who helped her get closer to home. Soon after, her sister told her she could see headlights. It was Kelly and Dan from the Junction City Fire Department.
“They had turned around and were looking for my address and they saw my mailbox. And when they looked over they saw my sister and both girls huddled under, and they picked them up,” Lemmerz said.
They spent the night at the track with many others who couldn’t get out in time. The next morning, Lemmerz called Kelly Loper’s wife.
“I was very happy to get to cell phone service the next day and let her know that he was a hero. Like he said, it was the first time in his career that he did not know if he was going to make it out, and he was in that fire truck with two six-year-old little girls. How do you keep a brave face? But he did,” Lemmerz said.
Loper said he was just doing his job.
"It's what we always think. Go up and try and do what we can. Help as many people as we can,” he said.
But that night clearly connected these two families forever.
Loper now has a tattoo with a badge, flames and the names of the three people he saved. Lemmerz also got a tattoo, one that says,
"No, I'm in hell up the McKenzie, in more fire than I've ever seen." That was the last text Loper had sent his wife before he lost cell phone communication.
Lemmerz said the biggest loss in the fire was her two pitbulls that didn’t survive. Their home, which they had only lived in for three months, was also gone.
One year later, Lemmerz's family is back on their property, living in a fifth-wheel, navigating the tedious process of trying to rebuild. While the road to recovery may take some time, Lemmerz said she knows one thing for sure. They’re not leaving Blue River.
"From start to finish, it's been McKenzie strong nonstop,” she said.
And she said she’ll never be able to thank the firefighters who saved her family enough.
“There's no amount of thank yous that I can say to them for being volunteers and having the bravery of turning around to get them and go all the way through. You know, they had to drive over trees. It was the first time in his career he thought he wasn't going to go home for his wife. And it was because he turned around for my family,” she said.