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Couple who escaped wildfire named Royal Rosarian Newsmaker of the Year nominees

<i>KPTV</i><br/>Larry Tripoli and Fran Howe
Larry Tripoli and Fran Howe

By Annalisa Burgos

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    GATES, Oregon (KPTV) — A local couple is being recognized for their powerful story of survival during a wildfire in the Santiam Canyon last September.

Larry Tripoli and Fran Howe were named as FOX 12’s nominees for the Royal Rosarian Newsmaker of the Year.

In Sept. 2020, Larry, Fran, their three dogs and cat were in their home in Gates when they were forced to flee to escape the Beachie Creek Fire – heading into the Santiam River to escape the flames and waiting on the bank for 18 hours for help to arrive.

“When I looked through the garage windows and the door that was here, that whole fence from the top of the road all the way down was on fire,” Larry explained to FOX 12 last year. “If we hadn’t been in the river I don’t think there’s anyway we could have gotten out of here.”

Now, nearly nine months later, the couple told FOX 12 they’re still taking things day by day.

“I think it is a day-to-day process. I’ve always been a planner, unlike my husband who lives day-to-day, so it was probably harder for me,” Fran said. “Boy, life is what happens when you’re making other plans, because you can never really truly prepare for a disaster like that.”

Fran and Larry say it’s been their community and the Red Cross who’ve helped them keep going. After living in a hotel for four months with their three dogs, they were thankful to move into a home in west Salem in January.

But their grief runs deep. Fran told FOX 12 their cat didn’t survive the fire and her mother’s ashes were also lost. While searching the rubble, she says they have found some treasured belongings, including some of her mother’s jewelry and a small tile that somehow was untouched.

“That thing was intact. This was a fragile porcelain tile and it was, you know, unscathed,” Fran said.

As the couples continues to rebuild their lives, they say their award also honors the resilience of their community.

“A lot of people that have stories like ours and deserve the recognition and accolades,” Larry said.

“[They] continue to do their jobs despite that they’ve lost everything. As I said you know, hopefully when people watch this they realized we’re accepting this for all of those people who suffered that loss.”

Larry and Fran told FOX 12 that while they plan to rebuild in Gates, it will be something smaller than before like a cabin or yurt. They also said Larry’s art from over 40 years was lost in the fire but they were able to recover digital versions of some of his work. He sells some of his pieces on Etsy. Anyone interested in taking a look at his art can do so here:

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