In remembrance of the Florida wildfires of 1998, the city of Ormond Beach gathered to pay respects to first responders and community helpers who were instrumental in recovering from the natural disaster two decades ago.
For three weeks after the start of the wildfires of 1998, Mary Lou Kenzik kept all her cherished and valuable possessions in her car. She wasn't taking any chances.
The Ormond Beach resident has lived near Tomoka State Park since 1981. But in June and early July of 1998, she packed up everything she could and complied with the mandatory evacuations for residents all over Central Florida, including Volusia and Flagler counties, as wildfires burned about 500,000 acres in Florida.
Twenty years later, at the city of Ormond Beach's remembrance event on Tuesday, June 26, Kenzik donned a white shirt with red lettering that read: "I survived the Florida fire storm of 1998." The shirt was worn from age, but her memories of the flames and the smoke were still burned in her mind.
"It was really spooky," Kenzik said. "At first, no one really realized how serious it was. There were so many more trees then. As the days went on, the sky filled and there was smoke."
Though her home was spared, she said it was a trying time for all.
"Everyone had headaches because of the smoke," she said. "It lasted forever. You know, hurricanes come and go. But that event lingered. The stress was really terrific."
Kenzik was one of many survivors, officials and community members who crowded in Ormond Beach City Hall to remember the wildfires and, more importantly, to honor the first responders, city staff and local business owners who kept Ormond Beach standing through the flames.
During the ceremony, Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington read a proclamation detailing the weeks of turmoil during the wildfires, followed by the community response that bonded the city together two decades ago.
"It was twenty years ago in June — one of the hottest, driest Junes on record — that we suffered as a city with the fires of 1998," Partington said. "So, we commemorate those tonight. Commemoration is to show respect for and remembrance of an event. ... No, we are not celebrating wildfires, but we are celebrating our hometown superheroes and our fantastic community spirit that helped save Ormond Beach, as well as other communities, during those wildfires."
Among those in attendance were: City Commissioners Dwight Selby, Troy Kent, Rick Boehm and Rob Littleton; City Manager Joyce Shanahan; Former Mayor David Hood; Former Fire Chief Barry Baker; State Sen. Evelyn Lynn; Houligan's founder Tim Curtis, who opened his restaurant's doors during the fires to serve as a base station for firefighters; Tasso Kiriakes of Bodez By Tasso, whose gym was a firefighter shower and rest post during the wildfires; and Riverbend Community Church pastor Rick Cobb, whose church was a shelter for first responders and the media throughout the fires. Lori Partington concluded the ceremony by singing "God Bless the USA."
"Now, therefore, I, Bill Partington, mayor of the city of Ormond Beach, along with the entire commission, do hereby proclaim today, June 26, 2018, as a day to honor Ormond's superheroes and the city of Ormond Beach, and urge all residents to join with me on this day, as we recognize these courageous men and women who placed their own lives in danger to preserve those of others," Partington said. "These are ordinary humans performing extraordinary deeds for the good of the community. And this is the true meaning of the word 'hero.'"