Strength of family: Still learning 1 year after losing home to Collier brush fire
It’s been nearly one year since Laurence Le Buff and his family lost their home in the Picayune Strand fire.
Flames burned thousands of acres, destroyed four homes and prompted evacuations for hundreds of Collier County residents near Lee Williams Road.
Laurence and his father built the home together —containing their memories and keepsakes— nearly 50 years ago.
“The house, it just disintegrated, melted,” Le Buff said. “It didn’t matter whether it was metal, glass, what it was, it just melted and everything just crumbled down.”
The community stepped in to help the Le Buff’s find a new place to call home.
“It’s really been fantastic and the outpouring from the community and friends and people that we never knew before that’s helping us out,” Le Buff said. “It’s just amazing.”
The Le Buff’s were the first to live on the road that was later named after their family.
“(It) still gets rough knowing you don’t have your home to go home to at night, but that’s getting better,” Le Buff said.
The fire started in the Picayune Strand State Forest, which contains multiple palm fronds and cabbage palms.
“Cabbage palms are perfect type of fuel for spot fires,” said Edward Vuolo, Forest Area Supervisor.
The cause of the fire was not determined, according to investigators, fire officials said they’re better equipped to fast moving fires across various terrain.
Vuolo reflected on his experience with the Picayune Strand fire.
“We learn from each fire … we need to make our lines bigger, get bigger equipment out there early,” Vuolo said.
Vuolo added this type of fire was different than what crews were used to fighting.
“We’re used to fighting in the fires in a lot of the flatwoods where our lines will hold,” Vuolo said.
Despite watching his home burn to ashes, Le Buff said he was able to gain strength and persevere.
“I learned how strong my family actually is … and the love that we all have for each other,” Le Buff said. “It’s just immeasurable.”
It’s important for residents to make a 30-foot defensible space around a home to maintain a lean, clean and green landscape, according to the Florida Forest Service.