Lost lives, homes and businesses from the recent western wildfires caught headlines, but dreams and some of the collector cars built from them were also lost.
About one million acres burned from dozens of wildfires in California and Oregon during the month of September. Among the victims of property damage in Oregon’s Alameda Fire was Cadilina Deville, a painter storing two cars at his father’s home in Phoenix, Ore. Lost to that fire on Sept. 8 was Deville’s 1956 Buick “Rat Pink” custom with a 1957 Olds roof and a stock 1941 Ford Super De Luxe convertible. Both cars were nearly completed in their respective build and restoration.
Upon news that the blaze was bearing down on the garage in which the Buick and Ford were stored, Deville said his instinct was to drive to his father’s garage to save what he could.
“I heard about it on the radio at about 11:30 in the morning and I rushed as fast as I could to the location,” he said. “It took me about an hour because the roads were crazy — I drove over a few curbs and broke some laws to get there and when I got there, I was trying to get everything wet. I was debating if I needed to pull the cars out of the garage. I didn’t want to believe it was going to happen.”
A local gas company employee shutting off natural gas lines and helped Deville move the disabled cars. The 1941 Ford’s steering wheel had been removed for restoration and the ’56 Buick’s brakes still needed bleeding, rendering them inoperable. Deville said he thought the cars would have a better chance of survival outside rather than in a burning structure that might also collapse.
“We pulled the Buick out into the street,” he said. “With the gas worker’s help, we were able to get the ’41 out into the street. If it hadn’t been for the gas guy, that one would have been in the structure as well. ”
In the minutes that Deville had to act, he found himself unable to think straight.
“When you know the fire’s coming, your brain stops seeing the logic and so, in retrospect, I should have shoved all the parts into my car. I couldn’t value what was the most important thing to save. At no point did I grab the spare fender, or the glass or any of that stuff. Once you start seeing the embers strike on your property, your reaction is to put them out. I was distracted by the ambers all over the neighborhood from a log that exploded behind us and instead of trying to save what I was there for, what I love, I tried saving the neighbor’s house with a small garden hose.”
Once the flames from the approaching fire began to bear down within eye sight, Deville knew he needed to evacuate.
“The second I could see the flames, I had about a half hour before I endangered my own life. When we left, I think we were very blessed to get out because there was only one way to get out of the neighborhood. Both sides had trees exploding into flame as we drove through.”
Days later, after the fire had passed through the neighborhood, Deville was finally able to learn the fate of his nearly finished project cars.
“Unfortunately, the Buick was too close to the neighbor’s houses and everything burned inside,” Deville said. “I think I had every piece of paperwork and pamphlet on the car in the trunk, which made it an extra-hot furnace. It was a 20-year project that had just been finished to the final stage and was going back together.
“The 1941 was 90 percent restored and getting ready to be put together. It came out a little bit fizzled and the body is fine, but it lost 90 percent of its parts. Every part that was off each car was completely destroyed. The ’41 could be rebuilt with a donor, just depending on how much time and ability one has. It’s a matter of time and parts.”
To say Deville is devastated is an understatement. However, he’s optimistic that the cars can be rebuilt.
“They were projects, our dreams that we were trying to accomplish. I have had a shop for 20 years and I as actually closing the shop and was going to retire from it. It was finally time to step away from it. At this point, I am trying to keep the shop doors open long enough to save [the cars]. I have the cars back at the shop here and I am trying to assess the damage and locate parts and locate funding for the parts.”
Deville said the parts are a tough loss and as a professional artist, it took him decades to find and fund many of the components that were lost in the fire.
“The digging through the ash and rubble and looking at the silver splatter marks on the ground and wondering what part is what — it is devastating when you know how long it took to find that one piece of the dash or what you had to sacrifice to buy that one piece you had been looking for.
“It’s purely heartbreaking. I can say that I cared for the cars more than I cared for myself. I sacrificed so much of my life to build that [Buick] and to see it taken so quickly is amazing. I was going to be really proud and sitting in high cotton but the universe had different plans I guess.”
He says a few fellow car guys have stepped up to make rebuilding the cars a possibility.
“Through all of this, the car community is the only thing keeping me positive,” he said. “Somebody is going to redo my steering wheel for free, and some guy sent me taillights. It’s how they feel they can help. It’s the first time in a long time I remembered what car culture is truly about.”
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