A little back story about my family. The Whitlock’s consist of Me, Kyle, my wife, Essica, and my 4-year-old twins, Kylie and Knox. We purchase our home on Sean Lane in late 2015. This was definitely our dream home. See we moved from a home on the West side of Bella Vista once our kids were born. Four people in a 1,000-sq. ft. home was not working for me, I needed a little space. Our home now is over 2,500-sq. ft. and has a multi-story deck on the back with a relatively flat yard (if you live in Bella Vista you know what I mean). Last year I built a privacy fence and a swing set in the back yard because my kids love to be outside. Needless to say we WERE living the American Dream.
I was in Afghanistan when my First Sargent woke me up and said “get packed your ride leaves in 4 hours.” I was sent home by Red Cross because my wife was pregnant with my twins and they didn’t think my daughter was going to make it due to complications during the pregnancy. Luckily everything worked out. We had our kids September 8, 2014 and together they weighed 9 lbs. Since birth my kids have had two unscheduled doctor visits, one each, my son for an ear infection when he was 3 and my daughter for an allergic reaction to poison ivy last year. Did I mention they were 5 weeks early? For me other than a torn meniscus I received during my 1st tour of duty, the only doctor visit I have had was to have a benign tumor removed from my lower back in 2017. Doctor asked me who my primary care physician was and I said, “I guess it’s you.” My wife hasn’t seen a doctor for anything unrelated to the pregnancy in several years. Webster’s definition of healthy family reads have you met the Whitlock’s.
The past six months for us gets worse every day. It started when I would get ready to leave for work in the morning and my truck would be covered in ash for several days in a row. We found out that there was a fire at the stump dump about 600 feet away from our house. For the next several weeks the smell would come and go but to my knowledge it was just some tree clippings on fire and there was no reason for alarm. Once the ash stopped but the smoke continued I knew this wasn’t going to be over soon. It was early October that the smoke finally penetrated our home. We had gotten used to it being in the garage and around our house but now it is inside. I can recall several nights that my kids would wake up screaming and crying because they were coughing. The lower floor of our home was the worst, it is a walk-out style basement more or less built into the ground. The smoke and smell outside would get worse with the wind but it lingered in my lower floor. It was not affected by the wind. The underground fire is releasing its smoke and smell outward before it reaches ground level. It was at this point that we quit using our lower floor of our house. Still my family made due with it because our City and State leaders never mentioned anything other than a small underground fire that only consisted of organic materials.
It wasn’t until later, that I noticed information starting to leak out on Facebook that was saying that there weren’t just tree limbs and stumps in the fire. Some of my neighbors started a Town Hall meeting on December 1st. Up to this point I really had no understanding how bad this situation really was. I was under the assumption that it was no different than a fire in your fireplace. The City of Bella Vista, POA, ADEQ and whoever else was in this meeting did nothing for the people who are in close proximity to this fire. One lady, I believe from ADEQ, was asked a direct question if she would allow her kids to play in this smoke, and she said YES. At the time I believed her. And actually felt bad when a few people from the audience booed her. But now, since all this evidence has come out about what is actually burning, I cannot fathom what our leaders are thinking. A few things that are document and known to be in this fire include: plastics, gas, oil, cans, car batteries, tires, metals, pvc piping, just a couple days ago it was noted that they pulled a car bumper and a transmission out. I was extremely naive to believe that the local and State Government agencies were here to protect their people. To date, not a single person, flyer or anything at my doorstep to let me know what is burning in this pit 600 feet from my home. But if you drive by the site, the City of Bella Vista has managed to build a substantial building directly over the dump. The amount of unanswered questions is unfathomable.
I’ve now been to the doctor on January 16th, due to a hack and cough that I have developed over the last couple months that won’t go away. My wife has developed the same symptoms over the last couple weeks to the point where she is losing her voice. My kids cough and have blood in their mucus when they blow their nose. I finally ordered my first pair of glasses, been wearing contacts for over 20 years, due to my dry eyes and irritation that has become a constant in my families lives. Our medical bills are starting to pile up. I wish we could afford to move or stay in a safer environment. The worst part is I believe this is only the beginning. Some of the worst days we have had were when they were digging the trench on the south side. The amount of smoke was inconceivable. It is my understanding that the best way to proceed forward to put out the fire is to dig it all up. This is will cause unimaginable harm to my family and all my close neighbors.