Twelve days after their motor home caught fire in Pendleton, Pete and Joy Goubeaud remain stranded and homeless in an unfamiliar city.
The retired couple from northern Idaho set up camp for now in an empty, sun-baked lot between Safeway and Oxford Suites where they continue to sift through their charred belongings. Anything that can be salvaged is laid out on a tarp, though nearly everything they owned was destroyed in the blaze.
“We’re not even focused on what we lost,” said Joy Goubeaud as she sat beneath a canopy to avoid the sweltering afternoon heat. “It’s more how in the heck do we survive.”
While technically residents of Priest River, Idaho, the Goubeauds sold their house about two years ago to become full-time RVers. It was a decision born out of necessity, with Joy needing to visit her elderly mother in Florida and Pete no longer able to do the heavy, physical work it takes to make it in an Idaho timber town.
Together, they traveled across the country to take care of Joy’s mother and visit friends in New England before making their way back west. The plan was to travel to the Pacific Ocean before eventually circling back around to Idaho, where they would take care of some business at home.
That plan hit a major snag after arriving in Pendleton. On July 21, the Goubeauds were heading toward the interstate on Southwest Emigrant Avenue when a fire erupted in the engine compartment of their RV. Firefighters still don’t know exactly what happened, but Joy and Pete suspect it had something to do with the transmission wiring.
Passersby called 9-1-1 and waved frantically to alert the Goubeauds to the trouble. They were able to get out of the vehicle unharmed, and while emergency crews arrived on scene shortly, it wasn’t enough to save the bulk of their possessions. Everything from their mattress to one of Pete’s vintage banjos now sits in the lot, blackened and ruined.
“It’s like you’re in a whole other world,” Joy said. “You’re fighting for your life, almost.”
Pete, a 72-year-old Vietnam veteran, compared it to being back in a combat survival mode. It is a stressful situation, he said, with no end in site.
To make matters worse, the Goubeauds have also run into difficulties with their insurance company. An adjuster did not arrive until nearly a week after the fire, Joy said, and though some confusion remains, right now the couple has been told none of contents of the RV are covered under their policy.
In the meantime, Pete has managed to purchase another smaller RV that he found on Craigslist, fitting in an air conditioner to keep cool during this week’s intense heat wave.
It hasn’t been easy for the couple.
“We’re spending our savings through our retirement,” he said. “Basically, everything is toast.”
Despite the personal tragedy, Joy said she has been amazed by the acts of kindness within the Pendleton community. She especially praised the locals who helped them escape their burning RV, the fire department and police Sgt. Tyler Reddington, who helped connect them with the American Red Cross.
The Oxford Suites also provided them a room, even during the immensely busy Pendleton Bike Week. Still, the couple doesn’t like to be away from the rest of their remaining possessions.
“I have a lot of nice things to say about Pendleton, Oregon,” she said. “The locals have been phenomenal extending kindnesses to us.”
For those who wish to help, there is a recovery account set up at Wells Fargo. Donations can be made in the Goubeauds’ name.
Contact George Plaven at email@example.com or 541-966-0825.