Idaho StoryCorps: A Wildfire Changes One Woman’s Life Forever

Jul 31, 2013

Nancy Suiter and her daughter Josie Newton
Credit StoryCorps

When wildfire hits the Foothills of the Treasure Valley, everyone who lives there goes on alert.  Three years ago, Nancy Suiter felt that fear when lightning struck the ground near Highway 16. 

A wildfire started in the Eagle foothills and the home Suiter and her husband had built 32 years before was in the path of the flames.  Her daughter Josie Newton took her mother to the StoryCorps booth in Boise to talk about that day.

“I had been painting that morning and Jackie, your youngest sister, was still living with me then,” said Suiter.  “She was outside in her bathing suit, cleaning the pool and fussing around with it.  I got kinda tired and I went to my private patio off my bedroom with a glass of tea and a book to rest a little while and I smelled smoke.  And having lived out there next to the sagebrush and dried weeds for 32 years…”

“Yeah, we had a lot of close calls over the years,” said Newton.  “Never really thought it would ever actually happen.”

“Well, you never do,” said Suiter, “if we knew it was gonna happen, we couldn’t live like that.  Nature protects us in that way I guess.  But your antenna does go up when you smell smoke in the Foothills in July.  I walked around to the west side of the house and I couldn’t see anything, couldn’t see any smoke or flames or anything.  But the smell was getting stronger."

"I went back to painting and the next thing I knew, Jackie was outside the window of the room I was and she was hosing down the roof of the house and the pine trees out front.  I ran out the front door and said ‘what are you doing?’ and she said ‘Mom there’s a fire coming.’  So we both went around back and by that time we could see smoke. 

"So I ran in the house and turned on the radio and the television and ran back and forth between them, hoping I’d hear something.  When I didn’t, I called one of the local TV stations.  They said 'Oh yes! There’s a fire there. We covered it at the 12 o’clock news.'  By this time, it was well past 12 o’clock. 

"I said do you know anything about it and the person who was on the phone said no they didn’t, but they’d cover it at 5 o’clock in the afternoon.  By that time I was standing on the west patio and we could see open flames on the hill just the next row of hills down the gully from us and I said I don’t think I can wait until 5 o’clock to hear about this."

"A sheriff’s deputy pounded on the front door and told us to grab what we could and he said get out now.  So I grabbed the baby pictures of you on my bedroom wall and my wedding rings and my watch and my purse and got in the car and drove to the bottom of the hill."

"Jackie got Ghost, our cat, and got in her car and drove down to Ballantyne and parked by the side of the road.  When we got out and looked up we couldn’t see the house at all, all we could see was a thick cloud of yellow smoke.  But your mind is so scrambled at times like that.  I remember Jackie asking me ‘did you lock the doors, Mom?’ I said well, no, I left them open.  She said ‘why did you do that?’ and I said in case the firemen need to get in."

"Long story short, she went to her boyfriend’s house and I went to the high school in Eagle where the police told us to go.  We didn’t have any new information until you and Larry came and found me at 7:30 that night.  That’s when you told me the house was gone.  And that was the first time I knew it for sure.  A terrible loss.”

“How do you think Daddy would feel about the fire, if he were here?” asked Newton.

“You know, your Daddy would grieve the loss just as I did. I know he would.  But he was always the kind of person who said, well, that’s the way things are now, let’s move on.”

Nancy Suiter says she was ‘kind of a gypsy’ after the fire. She lived with her daughter, friends, at a hotel, then a rented house.  She finally bought a new house in a subdivision just a mile and a half from where her old home burned down in the Eagle foothills.

StoryCorps is a national initiative to record and collect stories of everyday people. Excerpts were selected and produced by Boise State Public Radio. 

Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio