How Liberty Hill strengthened a family’s faith in humanity
The Ragle family residence was the type of southern home dreams are made of. It had a wooden exterior and interior, custom-made wood furniture and a welcoming ambience. It was always more than a house acting as a setting for countless family gatherings and everyday memories.
Noelalee and Ralph Ragle raised their three boys, Hunter, Matthew and Ryan, at the house on County Road 200 in Liberty Hill.
“People would come into our house and say how they felt like it was their home,” Mrs. Ragle said. “It wasn’t fancy. It was kind of like going to grandma’s house.”
The family hosted a barbecue on the Fourth of July just as they had so many years before. After setting off fireworks and watching the brilliant colors paint the sky, their family and friends left for the night leaving Noelalee, Ralph and their youngest son, Ryan, to clean up after a lively day.
About 30 minutes later, just as they were preparing for bed, the family detected the smell of smoke coming from somewhere in their house. They ran outside to find their garage engulfed in flames.
Before long, the local fire departments, including Williamson County Emergency Services District #4, Florence and Georgetown were on the scene, as well as family members and friends who had left the house only minutes to a few hours prior.
But the wooden exterior and interior only made it easier for the fire to spread, consuming most of the home. The Ragle family was thankful to be alive, pets and all, but was left picking up the pieces of the lives it had built on that most special property over 17 years.
There are countless memories of the boys playing tackle football or throwing balls inside the house.
It has only been about a week-and-a-half and the Ragles are still processing the fact their family home is gone. But, their most cherished possessions, such as Mrs. Ragle’s wedding dress, family portraits and a family bible that came from Jerusalem, somehow survived.
“We cleaned up and put the fireworks in a box because of our horses,” said Mr. Ragle. “Before we went to bed, we picked those up and set them just inside the garage. We pulled the cart with all of our 20 chairs in there.”
By the time, the family smelled the smoke, ran outside and realized what was going on it was almost too late. Mr. Ragle said the fire extinguisher was not charged and the water pressure in the house was not high enough.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Ragle was on the phone with emergency services, asking them to send help.
“It took the fire department nine minutes to get there,” she recalled. “When they arrived the garage was completely inflamed up to the garage door and up to the trees.”
A truck that was parked in front of the garage was engulfed in flames.
“It’s a garage so there was propane, gasoline, power tools, a lot of combustible products,” Mrs. Ragle explained.
She described the home as a “total loss.” Mrs. Ragle said she kept family photos inside a container in the family room.
“For years and years I always joked that if anything ever happens that is the one thing that’s got to come out because it can’t be replaced,” she said.
The family believes a higher power may have been looking after them that traumatic night.
The entertainment center was custom built from wood. Inside were videos from the children growing up.
“They weren’t touched,” she said.
The main bedroom was heavily damaged, including burned bathroom and closet.
“We lost everything as far as clothing and shoes and all the top shelves were burned,” Mrs. Ragle said. “But when Ralph pulled back the pile, right there was my wedding dress, and the plastic wasn’t even burned.”
The home’s office was also burned but a file cabinet with two drawers was mostly intact.
“We couldn’t get this top drawer to open and so the next day Ralph went in with a crowbar and in that top drawer was all of our children’s keepsakes,” Mrs. Ragle said. “Birth certificates, marriage license. You can’t get that stuff back and none of it was touched. It was a wooden file cabinet.”
Mr. Ragle reiterated that it is the irreplaceable items that mattered most to the family.
“We definitely and wholeheartedly believe it was (God) that said, ‘It isn’t a punishment, it isn’t anything you did wrong, it’s a redirection,’” Mr. Ragle said.
What the next chapter in the Ragles’ lives holds remains to be discovered.
With Ryan beginning college in the fall, the couple was considering downsizing to a smaller home, perhaps away from Liberty Hill. But their boys all wanted them to remain at their home — the one that held so many childhood memories. Even with the house gone, the boys encourage their parents to build a new home on the same property.
“It’s hard to know what God’s plan is for us, but when the community reaches out to you like this community has it makes you realize this is really your home,” Mr. Ragle said.
From the moment friends, family, neighbors, community members and even strangers heard the tragic news, it has been nearly nonstop acts of kindness toward the Ragle family. From countless gift cards for the grocery and retail stores and restaurants, to clothing ranging from undergarments to shoes, and a place to stay including a fully-stocked fridge and couch, to prayers and hugs, Liberty Hill has blessed the family beyond anything it could have imagined.
The family said after years of living in Liberty Hill they felt like they knew everyone. That is until Liberty Hill began growing from a small town to a growing city. It was one of the reasons the Ragles were considering moving.
But the way the community has taken them in at their worst moment has made the Ragles realize their family extends beyond the members that lived or even visited the residence on County Road 200.
High school students, entire families, church congregations, neighbors, business owners, friends and more have donated countless items in the hope of making the Ragles’ situation a little less painful.
The family hesitated to name anyone specifically for fear of leaving anyone out. They wanted to thank the entire Liberty Hill community for its kindness and support.
“What they’ve done we cannot ever feel like we could repay,” said Mrs. Ragle, through tears. “We want everyone to know how much we love them and that we appreciate everything. Had we not had the support of our friends, I don’t know what we would do right now, I don’t know where we would be, and I don’t know how we would be.”
A close friend started a Go Fund me page to collect donations for the family but the Ragles declined to include the information in this article. The fundraiser page reads, in part: “The family has been a big part of the Liberty Hill community for many years. From coaching Pop Warner football, Little League baseball, volunteering for many functions, being the president of the Youth Football League and the Booster Club, they have impacted many kids, and their families, over the years. It is now our turn to give back to this wonderful family!”
Mr. Ragle said explaining in words what losing their home was like or what the community’s support has done for them emotionally and spiritually, is nearly impossible.
“The feelings for our friends are beyond what we can verbally say,” he said. “We just want to say how much we love our town. No matter how big it is and how much it’s changed, it’s still our hometown.”