Watch CBS News

Emotional video shows 3-year-old crying for home burned to "nothing but ash" in Texas Panhandle wildfires

Family of 5 loses home in Texas fire
Smokehouse Creek Fire destroys Texas family's home: "A new fear that has been unlocked" 03:31

Today, Tyler McCain, his wife and their three young daughters are watching the snow from their Airbnb in the Texas Panhandle. Yesterday, their house burned to the ground in the Smokehouse Creek Fire, one of the largest wildfires in U.S. history. 

The McCains live in Fritch, Texas, a small town of roughly 2,000 people in the state's Panhandle. The 30-year-old father said he had been working diligently to pay off their home – something nobody in his family had ever been able to do. 

Then on Monday, everything changed. While driving home from errands – physical therapy and getting his daughter's first pair of glasses, amongst other things – they were suddenly driving through smoke. 

"There was smoke everywhere. And we're just kind of eyeballing it ... but there was nothing online. ... And the wind was horrible," McCain told CBS News on Thursday. 

He and his wife packed small bags of clothes and some important paperwork, "just in case," McCain said. 

And they could not have left soon enough. That smoke turned out to be from the Smokehouse Creek wildfire that had erupted that same day in their county, Hutchinson. It wasn't long before they got the notification that the fire had jumped a river, putting their town in danger. So his wife, 25-year-old Alazzai McCain, went back to their house to get their dogs. When she got back, she told her family that a sheriff told her the fire was "probably minutes away" and that as she was driving away from their home, their neighbor's yard was already on fire. 

That was around 2 p.m. on Tuesday. By Wednesday, the Smokehouse Creek fire had become the second-largest wildfire ever in the state. Within another day, firefighters said it had grown to more than 1.1 million acres, making it the second-largest wildfire in U.S. history

Like others in the area, the McCains were told to evacuate. With few options, they were led to the owner of an Airbnb who said they could stay there for free while the fire devastated their town. 

When they were finally able to go check on their home on Wednesday, one of the first things they saw on their block was a "house on the corner, perfectly fine, untouched," while another two were "just leveled." 

"At that point, it's kind of like a 50-50," Tyler McCain said. "...And I see my neighbor's house and it's perfectly fine. ... Our house was gone." 

Photos show that all that remained where their home once stood was ash, debris and the frame of a swing set. When they pulled into their driveway, "everybody in the car broke down," he said. 

All that remained of Tyler McCain's home in Fitch, Texas, is a large pile of debris after it was destroyed in the Smokehouse Creek Fire, the second-largest wildfire in U.S. history.  Tyler McCain

"I started shaking. My wife, she was crying pretty loudly," Tyler said. "...I got out of the car and kind of dropped to my knees and we're just sitting there." 

While Tyler was video chatting with family members who were asking about the damage, his 3-year-old daughter Addison started asking about the house, sobbing. 

"Why are you crying?" he asks her in a video of the moment. Through tears and sniffles, she responds, "I want to see house." 

"That's what broke me up the most," Tyler said. "... She was asking about her favorite teddy bear and her puzzle. ... And I'm like, 'Why didn't I grab some of that stuff?' ... I felt like in some way I failed them because I couldn't protect what we had." 

At another point while at their Airbnb, the girl asked her father, "this house is not burn down, right?" 

His other children, 1-year-old Arizona and 9-year-old Amaiyah, are also feeling the weight of the loss. Arizona has been significantly more fussy, he said, while Amaiyah is grieving the loss of their belongings. When he asked Amaiyah to try to be strong for her baby sisters, she said she understood, but "she broke down when she saw the house." 

On Tuesday night after being put to bed, Tyler said they heard Amaiyah suddenly make a "squealing noise" and they found her with her hand on her chest. She had thought their house would be OK, like she envisioned in a dream. That noise in the middle of the night was the panic of realization it wasn't. 

Alazzai wrote on Facebook that the saddest part of this experience wasn't that they lost the house, but that they lost their home. 

"I'll never see the floor where my baby's [sic] took their first steps, never see my oldest daughter's room again, as messy as it was," she wrote. "I'll never get to run my fingers across that dining room table and feel the nail polish stuck to the corner, or the sticker on the back of the chair. ...I'm not sad about the clothes and the beds, I'm sad that the only home my kids have ever known is just gone, nothing but ash. A skeleton of what use to be." 

Now, all Tyler and his family can do is fill out the necessary paperwork and wait. Despite their newfound fears for wildfires, they want to rebuild where they were to resume some normalcy for their children. But they're unsure of what's to come as they sort through home insurance and mortgage issues. His younger sister has also set up a GoFundMe to try and raise money for the family. 

"You see something on a video or online and think like that cannot happen to me," he said. "...And then it's you." 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.