One year after fire, Possum Kingdom homes come back bigger

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by CASEY NORTON

WFAA

Posted on April 18, 2012 at 10:08 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 18 at 10:27 PM

GRAFORD, Texas — Possum Kingdom Lake is in the middle of a building boom, one year after a massive wildfire scorched 125,000 acres and destroyed 126 homes.

In the ranching and lakefront homes of Sportsman's World along Hell's Gate Drive, 56 homes were reduced to ash-covered foundations. Livestock went running for their lives.

Now, 28 homes are under reconstruction, and the rebuilds are 66 percent bigger than the homes they are replacing.

Doug Brown watched his iconic home on Hell's Gate surrender to the fire. He was in a boat when 60-foot flames grew closer to the three-story structure.

He watched helicopter coverage minutes later, when the house was devoured.

Brown vowed to rebuild, and he completed the Texas flag rooftop one year after the evacuation.

"It encourages people to see the flag back up, that Possum Kingdom is okay," Brown said. "And a lot of the houses that are going back in now are bigger than before."

His home is framed, and stone work is under way.

The few empty slabs belong to those who haven't hired a contractor yet, or who didn't have insurance. Some people had to sell the land and move on, but others are moving in.

Four new homes are under construction.

James Smith's house had only minor smoke damage. He has watched his neighbors returning one at a time, and knows visitors aren't far behind.

"All of our businesses are open," Smith said. "The state park is open. And the lake is wide open and ready for summer fun."

Locals say the deer, geese and turkeys are hiding in the hills. The sight of butterflies in tall grass and wild flowers restores hope for Hopi Hodge.

"It's been a blessing," Hodge said, driving over the ridge behind her ranch. "I never thought it would be this green. I never thought we'd see flowers. I'm just elated by what God has done, by giving us all the rain and giving us the green again."

She's thankful for the firefighters who saved her home a year ago. She's even more thankful for the neighbors who survived the wildfire and found the will to build again.

E-mail cnorton@wfaa.com

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