SANTA ROSA (KPIX 5) — One of the victims of destructive and deadly Tubbs Fire — a ten-year-old Coffey Park girl named Lilly — lost everything: her home, her toys, and her most important possession, her prosthetic legs.
But despite her hardship, the young girl is now seeing the brighter side to life.
Lilly Biagini started the fourth grade 1.800 miles away from her old home in Santa Rosa.
The 10-year-old was born with a rare joint disorder. She made the decision four years ago to amputate her legs so that she could move around with great independence.
The night of October 8th, 2017, her rental home in Coffey Park burned to the ground.
“I lost my legs, I lost everything,” Lilly told KPIX 5 in 2017. “They’re really important to me, they’re a lot of money.”
After the wildfire, the community stepped up to help Lilly and her mother, Jessica Biagini, a single parent. A San Francisco clinic fitted Lilly for a pair of legs free of charge.
They bounced around the Bay Area for months, staying with relatives and friends. At one point, they ended up homeless.
“What I told myself was, ‘Lilly be brave. Be brave. Don’t worry about anything else; just be brave. Soon you will have your own house. You will not be living in your car,’” she said.
Their story got the attention of Ellen DeGeneres. The talk show host gifted them a new car.
DeGeneres later upgraded it to an SUV. This summer, the two loaded it up with everything they own and drove to Mansfield, Texas, a town about an hour outside Dallas.
“The community has really embraced us. We kind of came here on faith. No family, no friends, just ready to start new,” said Jessica.
Lilly and Jessica say they didn’t intentionally choose to move to Texas. Texas really chose them. A world-renowned non-profit hospital in Dallas called Scottish Rite accept their application for orthopedic care.
And on the same day, St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Arlington offered Lilly a spot to attend.
“I’m very thankful that I have my own home,” said Lilly.
She keeps her favorite things in her new room, which include memories from her past year. She has personalized jerseys from special events with the Harlem Globetrotters in Oakland and the San Jose Sharks.
The generosity of strangers has literally helped Lilly and her mom get back on their feet. Still, things haven’t been easy.
In the days after the fire, their GoFundMe page raised $75,000. Jessica says the site took a $15,000 cut in fees. She also set aside a large chunk of it for Lilly’s college fund.
“Gas and groceries; that’s what we need right now. So I believe I have five dollars in my checking account. So we’re really living off of fate right now,” the concerned mother said.
Some days, she says she takes things hour by hour.
“Now I’m like, ‘You have one Lunchable left. Do you want that today or tomorrow?’ It’s those kinds of decisions that are just heartbreaking,” she added.
Jessica is now searching for a job and taking care of Lilly. She can no longer afford to pay for activities that helped her spirit and her body, including horseback riding and swimming lessons.
“I feel free when I swim. It’s like the water knows how I am and the water knows how I feel,” said Lilly.
For a little girl who knows what it’s like to have nothing, she knows everything about being brave.
“I always tell people if you can’t make something shine, well I can make things shine,” said Lilly. “It’s amazing that I’m here and the fires didn’t hurt me or anything.”
One year after she lost everything, Lilly completed a triathlon this past weekend. She took first place in cycling and swimming, and second place in running.
Sunday’s race was with the Cook Children’s Group in Texas.