Saved by an Image in the Fire


EDINBURG, Tex. —  Alone, sitting at home one day in 2006 in La Feria, Texas, gazing at the computer screen as I work on my assignments, I think nothing of a little crackling sound. So, I ignored it.

As I finish finish typing up my English paper I notice my dog Coconut seems a little tense. She stares at me with her marble eyes and I sense she wants something. I get up, check her food bowl. Hmm, everything is fine… back to the computer.

Most people may think this sounds weird —but I can honestly feel when it gets dark outside. Living on an acre out in the country I am familiar with changes of climate. Considering we have no neighbors close to us, I grew up being at one with nature… literally.

Suddenly, I gaze outside and the clouds are smoky. The first thought that comes into to my head is that airplanes are spraying chemicals on the fields. But, no one has come to notify us. This is a little odd considering the pesticides they spray are poisonous and someone always comes to our house prior beforehand to alert us to not go outside and to shut the windows. So why isn’t anyone alerting us this time?

I grow more suspicious and walk over to the living room calmly with my dog in hand. The strange crackling sound seems to get louder as I walk through the hall.

Swinging open the living room door – my jaws almost drop to the floor. FIRE. EVERYWHERE.

In an instant,  I switch from calmly walking the hall with my dog to running around searching for the phone. I finally grab it and with shaking hands dial 9-1-1. “Ma’am OMG OMG OMG I can’t BELIEVE THIS… I THINK MY HOUSE IS ABOUT TO BURN DOWN! QUICK HELP ME!” In a panic I hang up, just then realizing I hadn’t given the operator my address. Well, thanks to technology she called right back.

“Ma’am, OK, you need to calm down. Give me your exact location.”

I try to cooperate to the best of my ability, but am in so much disbelief I can’t focus. My only thought is: “My house is going to burn down and I am going to lose everything.” Yet, even in this panic state, I think:  what can I save that is irreplaceable? Photos!

Running to my closet, I frantically search for photos. At this point my dog has left my arms and is hiding in a corner. I don’t find the photo albums so instead I grab my laptop. (Yes, you do weird things when you are freaking out.) Next I grab Coconut in my arms and  start to make my way outside. As I open the front door, I see flames are approaching my Chevy Cavalier so I make a run for it. As I race down my isolated half-mile-long private driveway, my dog and laptop in hand, thick smoke robs me of air. I almost collapse twice. When I get to the nearest neighbor’s house no one is at home. Alone, on the caliche road, I go over to the side of the road and just break down crying.

Out of nowhere an old man appears, driving along the road on his tractor. He immediately drives up next to me and asks me what is going on. “MY CAR IS GOING TO EXPLODE!” All I can think about at that point is how close the fire must be getting to my car. I expect it to blow up any minute now, and am mentally preparing myself for losing everything.

The old man grabs my car keys and tells me to stay put. He drives into the fire, focused on saving my car and preventing an explosion. As he drives my car out of the flames,  a fire engine  rolls up and so does Channel 4 News. At this point, the neighbor has returned home. She takes me inside her trailer and offers me a Mexican remedio drink because, she says, I am trembling with susto.

Within minutes, my mother shows up and drives INTO the fire to find me, not realizing that I am safely next door at the neighbor’s house. I yell for her but am too exhausted to run after her car. Thankfully, the firemen are there and prevent her from being injured.

In the end, three city fire departments battled the blaze. Afterwards, they said they hadn’t seen a fire this massive in several years and asked for copies of pictures I’d taken to hang at the fire department. When the fire was over and done with everyone was relieved but SHOCKED that not even a speck of fire had touched my house. Firemen said they were unsure what caused the fire, which charred several acres of land.

That evening on the five o’clock news the TV reporter who reported the fire said no one was inside the house, which is untrue. As the crew was filming, I was hiding next door, refusing to speak to the media because I was so frazzled. At that point I told my mom I was going to download the pictures I’d taken earlier on my camera. As reviewed them I couldn’t help notice one picture that stood out like a red thumb.

I printed several and showed them to mom. When I asked her which one stood out, she pointed to the same one.

(Michelle Lee Hankin)

(Michelle Lee Hankin)

(Michelle Lee Hankin)

(Michelle Lee Hankin)

After viewing the picture —I painted the yellow outline to better show how the fire burned— the fire fighters and my family agree someone was definitely looking out for us. As the picture shows, the fire burned just a few feet away from a gas tank —not shown in the photo— which was  located to the left of the house. It seemed to have burned around anything that belonged to us, although the entire area was covered in dry grass. This other photo shows how closely the fire burned to my car.

I am not sure exactly what the image in the fire was. But in my heart I know it was someone above looking out for me. I will forever be thankful to the image in the fire.





  1. Cora Tefertiller on

    Michelle Lee you are an amazing writer and an even more amazing photographer. I have the honor of knowing you personally and that alone is a blessing in itself. Knowing you personally allows me to be a fly on the wall in your life so i know about your hardships and struggles you had to endure and still are enduring, but one thing i do know is that God is watching over you and your family and he has so many plans for you. The proof is in the picture!

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