By: Alicia Turner | WCTV Eyewitness News
June 24, 2019
EASTPOINT, Fla. (WCTV) -- One year ago, dozens of families and homes were destroyed in Eastpoint after a controlled burn caused widespread destruction and left piles of ash in its trail.
Most of the victims say the last 12 months have been some of the toughest in their lives.
"It was a panic and I couldn't get out of the driveway," remembered Mary Thomas, a victim of the fire. "I was afraid I wasn't going to make it out."
The controlled burn spread beyond the Apalachicola National Forest and into an Eastpoint neighborhood.
"It looked like the gates of hell opened up," Thomas said.
The fire left charred homes and possessions, forever changing lives.
Thomas was one of more than 100 people impacted by the blaze.
"It's hard to start over," she said. "There's really no way. I had a house, I didn't have a trailer. I don't know, I never would have dreamed anything like that would have happened."
She says she went from a three bedroom home to a camper shared with her, her husband and their one-year-old grandson.
And, while she says she's thankful, it's simply not enough.
"We didn't burn our homes down," she said. "We shouldn't be going through this. I want a home back.
"I want a home."
Thomas isn't alone in her cries for help.
"I was promised a place a while back and still didn't get it," said Glenn Woodall. "I've lived in a camper for a year now."
In addition to losing his home, Woodall said he also lost one boat he could use to make a living.
"I was going out there oystering. I made a little extra money and that kind of helped but when they burnt my boat down and my trailer, I had nothing," he recalled.
"Some mornings, I don't even feel like getting out of bed," adds William Banks.
Things are a little different for Banks and his wife. The couple got a trailer six months ago. While they're not in a camper, they say the desire to want something closer to what they had just as strong.
"It's livable," Banks said, "But it's not enough for three adults."
For Banks, a tight living space is no comparison to the impact the stress of the fire has brought on.
"My health has really gone way down since a year, it's just day-by-day," he said.
Remaining healthy while waiting on a new home is especially important to Banks: Two of his neighbors died before ever getting permanent homes following the fire.
One of them was Jimmy Boone, who spoke to WCTV just days after the fire.
While a lot has changed for the community, residents hold the belief that better is coming.
"I think it can really grow and be something again," Thomas said. "We're just, right now, we're wanting a home to live in."
A home to call their own.