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Residents who remain one year after Wooldridge wildfire are still rebuilding


One year after the Wooldridge fire burned over 3,000 acres and destroyed at least 23 buildings in the Cooper County town, the rebuilding continues for those affected by the natural disaster.

No one was killed in the blaze after a combine fire mixed with drought conditions ignited a wildfire that ripped through the small community of about 60 residents in minutes.

Parts of the town were saved, including the Baptist church and the post office. The governor and members of Congress came to town after the fire to view the devastation and comfort the residents.

Local firefighters required help from dozens of area departments to get the fire under control with strong wind gusts and dry grasses.

Officials say that 10 people were displaced. Wayne Rice was one of them.

Rice continues to live in Wooldridge with his two dogs and miniature pony in an RV donated to him by people in Fayette.

The past year, Rice says, has been tough for him financially and mentally. He said he suffered from PTSD from the fire.

"It's been rough. I'm on a fixed income. Social Security is all I got coming in," Rice said. "They burnt some brush over there in that lot and the wind was blowing this way. I jumped out of bed and it scared me again."

Rice says he's in the middle of trying to get a settlement to build a new home in Wooldridge but it's been a difficult process. He says he knows eventually things will improve.

"It sure has been rough on everyone down here that's for sure. We'll make it somehow," Rice said.

The healing process also continues for Jessica McComb and her family.

The McCombs moved to Wooldridge in April 2021 to have more property to rescue animals.

During their time in Wooldridge, they housed several animals, including a rescue dog named Olaf, who did not survive the fire.

But, she says she finds comfort in knowing her family is okay.

"We're so happy that my babies are here, my husband is okay, we do have dogs and goats left but to know we were forced to move on without some of them was hard," McComb said.

Although it's been a year since the fire, the McCombs are reminded often that they are rebuilding when they don't have the things they once had.

"You're used to your stuff. The fire took it in such a fast way," McComb said. "It's different when you sell your stuff, you let go of that stuff but when it's forcefully taken, you almost forget that it's gone. We're still replacing different things that we need."

The family of six lives in Boonville, where they continue their healing process. People in Boonville have helped.

"The community of Boonville did nothing but hug us during the entire situation," McComb says. "We had families bringing us meals and families bringing us clothes."

McComb says her family has called the past year the year of the "restart."

"It's been a beautiful journey it's been a hurtful journey but it's been a beautiful one. We're healing. We are not healed," McComb said.

Article Topic Follows: Special Report

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Erika McGuire

Erika McGuire originally comes from Detriot. She is a reporter and weekend anchor on ABC 17 News.


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