Balloon launch honors loved ones lost in fire
GLADEWATER -- The road to Jane McBride's former home is still lined with fire-scarred trees and little more than the mailbox marks the site, though underbrush has returned.
Wildfires that scored the landscape in 2011 left a lasting impact on the area and a deep scar that, a year later, Mrs. McBride still struggles to deal with daily.
The tragedy that struck her family last September is something that continues to haunt her.
"I got a call from my son Gregory at 3:14, he wanted to know if we were OK," Mrs. McBride wrote in a letter to the Tyler Morning Telegraph about the day she lost her daughter and granddaughter, Valerie and K'loe. "He told me his friend Steven had called him and "said that Lincoln Springs Road was on fire. I began calling Valerie's cell phone, over and over and over again with no answer. I asked God to take care of them."
That day, Mrs. McBride recalls in the letter, she was leaving her home at 436 Lincoln Springs Road near Gladewater to tend to her husband, who was in rehabilitation after a stroke in 2009.
What would later be known as the "Moore fire" killed Mrs. McBride's daughter and granddaughter after Mrs. McBride left the family's home that day. That fire eventually torched more than 1,000 acres and numerous homes. Valerie and K'loe McBride were the only fatalities.
That day, Mrs. McBride was kept at a distance from the flames by authorities battling the blaze, but it didn't stop her other daughter and her from frantically rushing around the area, searching for any sign of the two.
The quest to find the girls in the woods and neighborhood around their home grew: Pastor Todd Kaunitz and Lucas Huffman joined in first after running into Mrs. McBride and her other daughter, Danielle Brown. Then local law enforcement swelled the ranks of the searchers, Mrs. McBride writes.
"It did not take them very long to confirm my suspicion that they had perished in the house fire," the letter reads. "They found Valerie first."
The two, authorities told Mrs. McBride, apparently climbed into the home's shower and turned on the water in an attempt to shield themselves from the fire.
Emergency responders found the body of 18-month-old K'loe beneath that of her mother.
"I told them K'loe is there with her, you will find her not far," Mrs. McBride writes. "My precious baby was doing everything in her power to save her precious baby."
Sunday, a commemorative balloon launch was rescheduled for Tuesday in light of the weather. And while Mrs. McBride said she was glad for the much needed rain, rescheduling the memorial was difficult.
More than 50 balloons with small memorializing notes were instead released Tuesday; a means of "sending a letter to heaven" for her loved ones and those who others have lost as well, she said.
To commemorate Valerie's 21st birthday on Nov. 20, a balloon launch at the property was held. Mrs. Brown told the Associated Press one of the balloons traveled more than 830 miles to Kannapolis, N.C., where it was picked up by a little girl the next day.
Questions still linger about that day for Mrs. McBride, though since then she's worked to move on with her life while still struggling with the loss.
"I closed the door and looked at that angel's face in the glass pane and it broke my heart to leave her," she writes of the leaving the house the day they later died. "I still see that baby's face in that window pane and I will for the rest of my life."