Community rallies around 2 Veyo families who lost their homes in Veyo West Fire

ST. GEORGE — Two Veyo families are coping with the aftermath of losing their homes and belongings in the Veyo West Fire that started Monday and burned just under 3,000 acres.

A charred bicycle sits in the damage of the home of Anthony and Lori Barlow, which was destroyed in the Veyo West Fire, Veyo, Utah, July 14, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Christine Katas, St. George News

Both the Anthony and Lori Barlow family and the John and Amber Villan family are known in the community for their volunteerism.

The Barlow’s have been an integral part of helping in the Switchpoint Community Resource Center community garden, as well as delivering food from the food bank to the Short Creek communities of Hildale and Colorado City.

And John Villan is a volunteer member of the Brookside Fire Department who felt a compelling need to join the understaffed crew a year ago.

Now the community is rallying around the two families whose homes were destroyed in the fire.

‘It will be here when you get back’

For the Barlows, the story started Monday afternoon when Lori Barlow received a call from her husband saying that he needed her to bring some tools and a trailer and help load up some heavy equipment at the shop in St. George where he was working.

She told St. George News that her husband had been experiencing some pain in his legs that had prevented him from working consistently the previous week and a half, and he had just gone in Monday to see if he could work. Because of the pain, he asked his wife if she would bring the kids to help load up the equipment.

The Barlow family dog survived the Veyo West Fire, Veyo, Utah, July 14, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Christine Katas, St. George News

Barlow went back in the house to tell the five children that their father needed their help.

The children were reluctant to go at first, she said, adding that her youngest son had recently started a worm farm to earn some extra money, and he wanted to stay and tend to them.

Knowing that her husband needed help and that the children needed to come, Barlow gently coaxed her children to join her, saying that the worm farm, and everything else, would be there when they got back.

“I may have even said that: ‘It will be here when you back.’ Famous last words,” Barlow said with a dry laugh.

The family left for St. George around 1:30 p.m. Monday with no indication that anything would go wrong.

‘I was hearing that my property was on fire’

John Villan was just getting off his regular job as a finish carpenter Monday evening when he got the call to come help with the fire.

“I hauled butt up the hill,” Villan said, adding that he arrived at his home to grab his fire gear just as his family was evacuating their property.

The fire had reached approximately 500 North in Veyo, and his family and his in-laws live on property that sits at about 1000 North.

Firefighters including John Villan (right) on the scene of the Veyo West Fire, Veyo, Utah, July 13, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Janie Hawley, St. George News

While his family was evacuating, Villan said he joined his fire crew fighting the fire up and down 500 North. Soon the crew was called to the Brookside area of Veyo as the fire was moving quickly toward those homes.

While he was defending Brookside, Villan said he could hear radio chatter about the fire on his road.

“I am hearing that my property is on fire while I am trying to defend Brookside,” he said, adding that it is every firefighter’s worst nightmare.

Once there was a lull in the winds, Villan said he asked his crew chief if he could go check on his home.

Villan arrived to find both the porch of his in-law’s home and a 1,500-gallon propane tank on fire, with its hose line whipping around.

Villan and another member of his crew first handled the propane tank situation and put out the porch fire. Then they were able to walk around the property to assess the damage.

Villan discovered that the recently purchased single-wide home that he and his wife were renovating had burned to the ground.

“It was a skeleton,” he said. “Everything had collapsed, and the frame was all twisted.”

L-R: John Villan, Amber Villan and son survey the damage on their property from the Veyo West Fire, Veyo, Utah, July 14, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Janie Hawley, St. George News

The couple and their son had been living in a motor home while they worked on the renovations. Their son was looking forward to having his own room soon so that he could invite friends over to play.

But with no time to mourn his loss, Villan returned to Brookside and battled the fire with his crew until 4 a.m. Tuesday.

The motor home and the parents’ home survived, but many of both families’ belongings were being stored in containers, as Amber Villan’s parents were also working on a new home at the time. Initially the items in the containers were in tact when Villan was first on site, but high winds and extreme heat caused a flare-up that eventually destroyed everything in the storage containers as well.

‘There’s nothing left’

For the Barlow’s, the wait to find out what had happened to their property, including their family pets, was long and uncertain.

Lori Barlow said when they had finally loaded up the trailer, she received a call from the landlord of the home and property they were renting in Veyo asking if everything was alright.

The landlord had heard the fire was close to the property and wondered if they had any information.

They didn’t.

After the call, the Barlows headed toward Veyo – a journey that took 2 1/2 hours in backed-up traffic – unsure of what was happening with their home and their town.

After trying to get information at the church in Veyo where the Red Cross was set up, the Barlows, along with others who had been evacuated, were sent back to St. George to a hotel. Later that evening they got a call from the fire chief who gave them the news.

The good news, Barlow said, was that their cows and family dog had survived. The dog’s instincts had kicked in, and she herded the cows that had escaped up toward a neighboring house to safety.

The bad news was that the house was gone.

“There’s nothing left,” Barlow said the fire chief told her husband.

‘We may have lost a home, but really, we’ve gained a community’

As the two families begin coping with the aftermath of the loss of their homes and belongings, friends and neighbors set up GoFundMe accounts for the Barlow family, as well as John and Amber Villan. They also started accepting donations of in-kind items and gift cards and are still seeking volunteers to help with clean up.

The aftermath of the Veyo West Fire near the Barlow home, which was destroyed, Veyo, Utah, July 16, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

It is a gesture that people who know of the goodness of the two families said is the least they can do.

The Barlow family has been diligently volunteering their time at the Switchpoint community garden. They have been integral in helping ensure its survival during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the nonprofit homeless shelter and resource center lost many of its previous volunteer base.

Dr. Fred Bohman, who has been part of Switchpoint since its beginning, said the garden would’ve otherwise been in jeopardy of being lost.

Bohman said the Barlow family freely gave of their time and energy without ever asking for any sort of compensation, and he added that even after the fire destroyed their home, the family continued this week to deliver food to Hildale.

Bohman said the spirit of the entire family is one of giving, and they would give the shirts off their backs to anyone who needed it. Now it is the community’s turn to return the kindness, he said.

Members of the Barlow family survey the damage to their property from the Veyo West Fire, Veyo, Utah, July 14, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Christine, Katas, St. George News

“Nothing they own is salvageable. They are starting from absolute zero,” he said, “but their attitude is wonderful.”

Christine Katas, who organized the fundraiser on the Barlow’s behalf, agreed with Bohman.

“Lori and her family have done tremendous service to many people,” Katas said. “This family just blesses everyone, everywhere they go.”

Janie Hawley, a resident of Brookside, whose neighborhood was defended by Villan and the volunteer fire crew, extolled his virtues and selfless efforts, saying that the Villan home burned to the ground “while he was up saving my neighborhood – literally.”

Hawley said she is profoundly grateful for the efforts of all of the firefighters who put everything on the line in order to serve their community.

Both the Villans and Barlows said that though they lost their physical property, they remain extremely grateful that their families’ lives are safe and that they live in such an incredible and giving place.

This is a very tight knit community,” Villan said. “We all look out for each other. That’s the appeal of Veyo, Utah. We all stand together and I’m very proud to call myself a resident.”

Barlow echoed the sentiments.

“We may have lost a home, but really, we’ve gained a community.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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