Amid the rubble, Sabrina Cedars still stood.
What began as a dream for Ashley Pyle on her wedding day has become the story of a miracle.
“I wanted to have something to do with weddings after Cason and I were married in 2004. Weddings are magical and I knew I wanted to be a part of them,” Ashley said. “I just didn’t know how.”
In 2018, on the land where they built their home, Ashley’s desire to create magic for other couples came to fruition when they built Sabrina Cedars. The venue was named after Cason’s mother, Sabrina Pyle, who passed away tragically in an automobile accident when Cason was young. His mother embodied so many beautiful qualities and the couple wanted to honor her through the beautiful attributes of Sabrina Cedars.
“Our vision was to provide something unique to Abilene through a space that felt away from the world and timeless. A space that provided beauty and peace. A space where friends and family could gather, escape the busyness of life and celebrate the things that matter most,” Ashley said.
Almost as soon as the construction was complete, Sabrina Cedars became just that- a staple in the Abilene community for events and weddings that provided exactly what the Pyles envisioned it to be. They had no idea where this journey was going to take them.
On May 17, 2022, Cason and Ashley took their daughters, Emery, Piper, and Joey, on a trip to San Antonio. Later that afternoon, the Mesquite Heat Wildfires started. At the time, the fires were not near their property and there were no concerns, so the they decided to stay in San Antonio and move forward with their plans. During their trip, they were in close contact with neighbors and friends regarding the containment of the fire. Wednesday morning, things were still good and stable, but that afternoon there was a shift and things quickly took a turn for the worse.
Ashley’s friend, Kelsey Aycock, had a showing at the venue scheduled later that day but noticed from town that the smoke and other factors looked different. Kelsey decided to go out early to the appointment to assess the situation. About ten minutes after arriving at the Pyle’s property, the highway was closed that led to Sabrina Cedars. About twenty minutes after that, a sheriff’s deputy came to the county road where the Pyle’s house and venue sat and told Kelsey to evacuate. She was able to grab the family pets and some valuables before she left.
Knowing Kelsey was having to leave their property and the fire was drawing near, the Pyle’s decided to head back to Abilene. About two hours into their journey home, they received a call with confirmation that their house had in fact burned and it was thought that the venue was gone as well. Ashley recalls the remaining two hours of their drive home as a long two hours of the unknown.
‘Our kids were asking a lot of questions, all of which we didn’t really have answers to, and our minds were whirling with all of the what ifs and what was to come. We mourned what we knew was lost and the last hour of the trip was really quiet,’ Ashley said.
The next morning, they received a text from a sheriff’s deputy confirming that their house was in fact, burned along with the small barn known as The Pavilion at Sabrina Cedars. Miraculously, though, the main barn at the venue was seemingly untouched by the fire.
Cason and Ashley were thankful for this news but needed to see it to believe it. They hoped to get close enough to the property from Highway 277 to see the top of the building peeking out over the trees and land. As they neared the location with the view, they received yet another text message from a friend and wedding coordinator, Kendra Duke, that contained a photo of the property. Sure enough, there stood the beautiful Sabrina Cedars surrounded by black, burned trees. The main structure was in fact still standing.
‘That’s really when all of the emotion came for both Cason and I,’ Ashley recalled. ‘We had been in a lot of shock, felt numb, but when we received that photo, we just sobbed. We were in disbelief.’
Later that day, they were able to experience first-hand all that the fire had taken. Seeing their house burned to the ground, their metal roof tangled up all around it and knowing their things and keepsakes were gone, was a lot to process. There was immense grief, but much to their surprise, many of their neighbors’ homes were still standing. There had been a widespread belief that the whole county road was lost, so Cason started calling the neighbors to share the good news.
‘I will never forget hearing their joy and excitement in the midst of our sorrow. We were so thankful that we were the ones that got to communicate that with them and it’s one of my favorite parts of this whole experience,’ Ashley said.
Since the tragedy, the Pyle’s have been surrounded by friends and blown away by the overwhelming support from their people. Their Southern Hills Church of Christ family, Abilene Christian School community (where Cason works and their girls attend), their Sabrina Cedars family, and other connections in Abilene stepped up in ways they never imagined. The weekend after the fire, they asked friends to come help with the property clean up and what they anticipated to be a 1-to-2-day process was knocked out in 4 hours. One hundred and twenty friends showed up in a big way.
‘They were so gentle with what remained of our space and belongings. They worked so hard for us,’ Ashley said. ‘Jesus is on the face of our community here and there are so many good people in this world.’
While it hasn’t been easy for any of them, Ashley said that watching their daughters experience the heartache has been the hardest part. They each have their own ways of processing and dealing with the loss.
‘Our kids are brave and strong and incredible people,’ Ashley said. ‘What they have learned from our community is priceless and Cason and I know they will pass on all of this good someday.’
Despite the unsettled nature of their life currently, the business has continued to run through the transition. Fear of losing weddings crossed their minds post-fire, but they have been able to keep far more than they’ve lost, and it has been a great reminder for Cason and Ashley as to why they started Sabrina Cedars in the first place.
‘Our constant prayer for the venue has been that the Lord would bring us the right people and he always does. We understand that more than ever right now,’ Ashley said.
Since the fire, nine weddings have taken place at Sabrina Cedars, and despite the circumstances, each has had the magical feel that Ashley envisioned from the beginning.
The Pyle family is forever grateful to their church family, work family, venue family, and hundreds of others that have been there to help them walk through this. They are thankful for the firefighters, first responders, and Sheriff’s Department for the endless hours sacrificed during the fire. They are thankful that amid the devastation, the main part of Sabina Cedars miraculously stood and for the peace they have had throughout the journey.
‘We have had an unexplainable peace and know that God has been with us every step of the way’ Ashley said. ‘We know that God is for us and can do far more than we ever ask or imagine.’
The Pyles still have a long road ahead of them, but there are silver linings in everything. A lot was lost, but more was learned. Homes and buildings can be rebuilt. Community matters. Kids are resilient. There are good people everywhere and beauty can come from ashes.
By Nicole Fletcher
Photography By Kelsey Aycock, Copper and Pearl