ZEPHYR — The Diamond R Store and Cafe is as synonymous with Zephyr as the ZHS Bulldogs, and its employees worked around the clock to save the community they love.
Whether on the front line with hose in hand or on the kitchen line preparing free meals for firefighters coming out of the fray, the Diamond R Store and Cafe sought to preserve its community with employees returning to work throughout the night and into the afternoon following a mandatory evacuation with the fire threatening the Orica plant, which houses explosive materials.
“It was an easy decision to make. Half of the town was out there fighting the fire and I felt like we needed to keep the door open and we had a few people come in and say ‘Cody, lets make sure the firefighters get fed. Let’s make sure they have snacks and they have whatever they want,’” Diamond R Owner Cody Rogers said. “That’s what we did and what we’re continuing to do. First of all, we’re going to thank them. Then, we’re going to tell them ‘Grab whatever you want. It’s already been taken care of.’”
Rogers said around 2:30 p.m. Monday, a volunteer firefighter arrived at his restaurant, telling him to close the restaurant, shut off all utilities powering the ovens and other kitchen items and evacuate the town immediately. When the evacuation was lifted a few hours later, he returned. Knowing he could not run the restaurant by himself called on his daughter Haven as well as employees Joe Burkett and Whitney Willett to come in and assist those defending the town from an 1,200-acre fire raging just outside of city limits.
“’We’ll be there in 15 minutes,’” said Rogers, parroting his employees’ response when he called them in. “Both of those employees have been with me for more than six years. It was midnight. They answered the phone and they were supposed to be here at 5:30 the next morning. I knew they were already asleep, but they said ‘Yeah, we’ll come in right now.’”
At 1 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, Haven Rogers, Burkett and Willett were still on the clock. Burkett and Willett received a few hours rest between shifts while Rogers worked around the clock beside her father. Cody Rogers said he does not expect a donation to offset the cost of keeping his restaurant open overnight, nor will he request one, but some patrons have taken it upon themselves to add an extra $20 or in one case $100 to their tab. He believes those motivated to donate do it because they understand Diamond R’s commitment to its community and the financial and physical costs to do so.
“We have one of our own out there,” Willett said. “She’s a volunteer firefighter, Donna Heard. She works here with us. She would do anything for us and we would do anything for her. This was bigger than us so we want to help them out as much as we can.”
Tuesday afternoon officials with the Texas Forestry Service reported the fire had been 50 percent contained. Surrounded by bottled water, sports drinks, food, face wipes, eye drops and anything else a firefighter may need while hunkered down for a prolonged battle, a group of Zephyr Volunteer Fire Department firefighters rests. After numerous denied requests for an interview, they volunteer a spokesman — Zephyr VFD Firefighter Donna Heard.
“Everybody in this room will be turned back out there today,” Heard said. “We will all go back out there. We’re not going to let someone stay out there until they get exhausted and can’t function. That’s why we’re all out here taking turns.”
Along with working at Diamond R, Heard also owns a business in downtown — Bloomers and Boots. She said the ZVFD has been working on the fire since it was originally called in Monday as a small structure fire and quickly spread.
“It’s exhausting. Most of us in here were on a truck last night until 2 a.m.,” Heard said. “We still have guys out there right now that have not come off a truck yet. They came in and ate and went right back out. Every fire department that has come, none have come in and slept or anything like that … Some of the places where it’s at there is heavy foliage, little canyons, dips and creeks. It’s hard to get to. We have places where you can’t get. Last night, we had to sit up on the ridge at Three Springs and had to let it burn until it got to us. You don’t have a choice.”