From the ashes . . .
They lost fabulous homes and many treasured possessions inside the structures. But, one year after the monster fire that ripped through the Private Marina neighborhood of Port Aransas, property owners are rebuilding.
Taddy McAllister and her relatives spent 33 summers in their vacation house at Private Road A before it burned down Oct. 9, 2009. Losing it “was like a death in the family,” she said.
They built a new house where the old one once stood. Fifty percent bigger than the previous structure, it’s a bright, airy place with brand-new furnishings everywhere, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the site’s commanding view of the Aransas Pass ship channel and San Jose Island.
“We’re thrilled with it,” McAllister said of the new building. “There is a silver lining, and that is that we got together as a family and planned and created a wonderful new house together.”
The blaze first was reported to 911 operators about 3:10 a.m. It started at a home on Private Road D, authorities said. Gusty winds caused the flames to spread from house to house, even leaping a channel to ignite still more structures along Private Road A.
All of the houses were vacation homes or second residences, and none was occupied at the time of the fire. That helped keep injuries down to zero.
But it still ended up being one of the biggest fires in Port Aransas history.
“It was huge,” recalled Scott Mack, chief of the Port Aransas Volunteer Fire Department. “Of course, it was the biggest anyone in the department had ever seen. When we rolled up, with the wind being what it was, and the fire growing as fast as it was, it was pretty overwhelming.”
“ consumed more homes in the 16 years he has been investigating fires.
“ Fire departments from Corpus Christi, Portland, Rockport, Fulton, Lamar, Aransas Pass and Ingleside rushed to Port Aransas to assist the PAVFD. Some 75 to 80 firefighters in about 15 trucks converged on the scene.
In the immediate aftermath, the late Joe Lamb, who was the Port Aransas fire marshal at the time, said the cause of the fire likely was an electrical problem involving an air conditioning unit or an electrical panel between two houses on Private Road D. Lamb died suddenly of what was believed to be a heart-related ailment in December last year.
Interviewed earlier this month, Shirley said he closed his investigation without being able to reach a determination of an exact cause of the fire due to “the extent of damage and the (inability) to fully eliminate all possible ignition sources.”
“ runs along the Aransas Pass ship channel – were destroyed.
“ John Strieber recently finished building a new house where his old one burned down. Fire victims Ralph and Sarah Gilster also have a house under construction. Still planning to build back reportedly are property owners Russell Hill, Jack Scholl, Walter Negley and a family that purchased property formerly owned by John Sowell.
All three of the houses that have been built or are in the process of being built are taller than their predecessors, but they still are under the 35-foot height limit in city codes, said John Speights, the city’s building official.
While all but one of the buildings that burned were made of wood, the three new ones have a Hardiplank exterior, Speights said. Hardiplank is a composite that is fire- and weather-resistant.
Even though no one was injured and none of the burned structures were primary residences, the fire still was a deeply painful thing, property owners said.
Strieber had owned his house at 420 Marina Road A for more than 20 years. Flames incinerated not only the house but also many years of collectables, mementos and family heirlooms.
Lost were “photos of kids and grandkids that you can’t replace,” said Strieber, a semi-retired accountant whose primary residence is in Helotes.
But he loves the big house that he built to replaced the old one.
“It has more room for kids and grandkids,” he said.
The Gilsters lost their house at 1018 Private Road D. The place was more like a second residence than a vacation home, Ralph said. The family spent about one-third of each year there, when they weren’t at their Austin home.
The Gilsters lost precious family photos and heirlooms including fishing lures that Ralph’s great grandfather caught tarpon with in Port Aransas waters in the 1930s.
While they mourn the loss of their old house, the Gilsters are feeling optimistic. Ralph expects the family to move into the new house by Christmas. It will feature modern upgrades that the old house didn’t have, like shatter-proof windows that are so tough that they won’t require shutters in the event of a hurricane.
“It’s going to be a fabulous house, and we will love it as much as the old one,” Ralph said.
McAllister’s family lost a house that hosted many dozens of weekend parties over the years. And then there was the stuff inside.
“Home presents, art, old furniture, skis, gosh, just everything,” Taddy said.
The McAllisters’ new house is three stories high – one story higher than the previous house.
“We took full advantage of having that third floor, and made it really big,” Taddy said, laughing.
Furnishing and decorating the new place has been a blast for the family.
“It’s been great fun, especially since we were spending insurance money,” she said with another laugh.