LUTHER — A charred chain of silver crosses hangs from the rearview mirror of Nancy Peters' pickup.
The crosses belonged to her husband, Gary. He wore them nearly ever single day before his death in January 2012.
The chain is one of the few remaining items Peters has left that belonged to her husband.
“We watched as everything burned,” she said. “It was just devastating losing him and then losing everything; we lived in that house for more than 20 years. We are just trying to find our way back now.”
‘It still hurts'
One year after a wildfire tore through the small town of Luther, destroying dozens of homes, Peters decided to keep her roots firmly planted in her hometown's soil.
Around her house are reminders of last year's devastation.
The fire, which investigators say they believe was started by an arsonist who was throwing lighted newspapers from the window of a pickup, destroyed more than a dozen homes on S Dogwood Street alone.
The arsonist was never arrested.
Peters said her son and daughter were able to make it into the house to grab a few important things as flames began to crawl up through her backyard.
“By the time they got in and out, the fire was already in the house,” she said. “It was really hard to see it all go. It still hurts.”
It wasn't until the cleanup started a few days later that they found her husband's chain of crosses.
Now, a forest of blackened trees surrounds her home, the melted remains of her motorcycle are still stuck to the foundation of her barn and the lots of would-be neighbors are still sitting empty.
‘Now it's just me'
Peters, 61, said she is the lonely house on Dogwood Street as she was the only one to rebuild on her original property after the fire. Everyone else ended up moving away — either because they were renting the property or because they had no insurance.
“It was a hassle to get my house back out here,” she said.
“So many restrictions to build back here, and just the permits alone were extremely high.”
Peters said it was $500 to get the permits to rebuild, $500 more to get her utilities hooked back up and an even bigger hassle when she was told she wasn't allowed to live in a double-wide trailer.
“The city said it was because it was zoned for housing and not for trailers,” she said. “I think everyone thought it would just be easier to sell and move on.”
But Peters said her husband always stressed to her before his death how important it was to own land.
“He told me property is like gold anymore: If you sell it, then you have nothing,” she said. “It was an awesome street with good neighbors. Now it's just me.”
Rebecca Kolar was just recently able to move into her new home in June. She and her husband, Douglas, found a home in Jones that they like and were able to afford after the fire destroyed their home in Luther.
Kolar said she loves her new home, but still thinks about the one she lost on Dogwood.
“Sometimes I still find myself looking for those things that were in the old house,” Kolar said.
“Then I'll remember, ‘oh, that was in the fire.' Things like that are still painful.”
Kolar said the original plan was to rebuild in Luther, but they were unable to afford it.
“The prices were so high on homes,” she said. “You just couldn't imagine the price on everything. They city said our lot was too small and they said the lot would have to be bigger to build. We really had no choice but to move.”
One thing Kolar said she really misses is her neighbors on Dogwood. She enjoyed getting out and watering her plants and talking with neighbors.
“It would be fun to go back on the day of the fire each year and visit,” she said. “I think that would be real nice.”
Peters said she has grown a lot in the year since the fire.
She said all the help she got from family and friends was tremendous.
“I've learned how strong I am,” she said. “My friends look at me now and tell me they would've sold and moved away. My husband is buried out here, and I just couldn't do it.
“This is my home.”
“My friends look at me now and tell me they would've sold and moved away. My husband is buried out here, and I just couldn't do it. This is my home.”
Standing on the foundation of her garage in Luther