Palm Coast couple recalls lingering smoke after wildfires of 1998, before they even met
When Flagler County was evacuated during the wildfires of 1998, 15-year-old Xiomeli Calderin knew just what she wanted to save: her boom box, CD Walkman, sticker collection and photos of her high school memories.
Her family evacuated their home in the W-section to Orlando and then to a beachside hotel in Ormond Beach. At age 15, Xiomeli was afraid but also exhilarated as adrenaline rushed through her during the evacuation.
Now, Xiomeli Cordero lives with her husband, Mike Cordero, in the B-section, just a few streets away from where Mike’s family bought a home just before the fires began in the county in ’98.
“We had come up from West Palm to kind of visit the area and look around, and at the time, there was smoke in the area, like you could smell it,” he said.
As his family was staying at what’s now called the Red Roof Inn in Palm Coast, Mike recalls being in the pool, looking up and seeing ash in the air. After closing the deal on their new home on Birchtree Way, they went back to South Florida to pack up and prepare to move.
“We remember watching it on TV and seeing that they evacuated the area,” said Mike, who was 18 years old at the time. “So, I remember me, my dad and my brother talking like, ‘Oh my gosh, maybe the house burned down.’ We had just bought into it, and it was just a big mess. So, we ended up coming up as soon as the county opened up the doors to let us back in to take a look at the house and make sure everything was OK.”
The fire had burned the block of trees behind their house — right up to the property line where Palm Coast firefighters had sprayed the lawn and house to prevent a structure fire.
“The fire department did a fantastic job saving the house,” he said.
Still, there were lasting effects even after the flames dwindled.
“There was just a burnt smell in the air for a while,” Mike said. “I remember it being quite a while that that was around.”
The heat from the flames did melt the gutters on the side of Mike’s home, but Xiomeli’s home in the W-section was unharmed.
After going through the chaos of quickly packing and evacuating, Xiomeli now keeps important papers in a bin — ready to go should her family ever have to evacuate.
“I’m very on top of it; I’m proactive,” she said. “Like, when we evacuated for (Hurricane) Matthew, I literally just grabbed the bin, put it in the trunk, and we were good to go — just because you never know, and I just remember (my parents) being frantic looking for everything.”
Xiomeli’s valuables from 1998 are still safe too; the sticker collection has been passed down to her daughter.