Rising from the Ashes

Pali High Senior Jessica Bierschenk Crafts an Unforgettable Gift Out of Woolsey Fire Destruction

By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief

The Woolsey fire burned through 96,949 acres in our neighboring communities, destroying more than 1,600 structures in its path—including the longtime Bell Canyon home of 90-year-old grandmother Letty Bierschenk.

Most of the items in the home had been “completely obliterated” and there really wasn’t much of anything left at the home she lived in for 28 years.

But among the devastation, Letty’s granddaughter, Marquez Knolls resident Jessica Bierschenk, saw a chance to create something to honor the home that held memories from all of her 17 years of life.

“I really wanted to give my grandmother something to remember what she had lost, especially because it was hard for her to lose things that she couldn’t replace,” Jessica shared with the Palisadian-Post. “I wanted to give her something special.”

Sifting through the remnants of the house, Jessica knew exactly what she wanted to craft for Letty.

“I knew I wanted to make a phoenix,” she explained, “because of how symbolic it is.”

Jessica shared that the phoenix would represent a rebirth and starting over. And so she began her hunt for pieces that would fit into her piece.

“One of the big ones was my grandfather’s saw,” she said. “When I found it, it was warped from the heat, so it kind of already made a wing shape. When I saw it, I knew I wanted to use it for the wings.”

Jessica and Letty

Other items Jessica was able to incorporate include parts of her grandmother’s sewing machine, a grandfather clock that her grandfather, who passed away in 1999, had made, stained glass from the house and part of a piano that her grandmother loved to play.

“It took me about a week,” Jessica shared, adding that she’s always created art, but this was her first big welding project.

The most challenging part, she explained, was the fact that she didn’t know what she would find.

“I had to rely on pieces that I gathered,” she said. “I had to improvise a lot with what I was given.”

Jessica was able to gift the phoenix to her grandmother a few days before Christmas—an especially fitting time because of all of the holidays the family had celebrated together in the Bell Canyon home.

“Every Christmas, every Thanksgiving, every Easter,” Jessica said. “Pretty much every major holiday, we always spent there.”

Almost 30 members of the family, who are spread throughout California, would gather in Letty’s home for each celebration.

“I have a lot of happy holiday memories there,” Jessica added.

So when it came time for Jessica to gift the phoenix—after the heartache of losing her home that had once been a hub of memories and joy—Letty was overcome with emotion.

Woolsey fire destruction

“I walked her into the room where it was, because she didn’t even know I had been working on it, and she cried and she was just so happy,” Jessica explained. “I could tell it was such a meaningful gift to her, especially because it was around Christmas time and just not being able to be at her house brought a lot of sad emotions out.”

Jessica shared that her and her grandmother have always had a special relationship.

“I’ve always been pretty close with my grandma,” she said. “She’s just the sweetest person in the entire world.”

She added that her grandmother “couldn’t say a bad thing about anyone, even if she tried.”

“She’s just such a strong woman and I’ve always looked up to her.”

Jessica, a senior at Palisades Charter High School, will attend Duke University in the fall. Though she is not yet sure what she wants to study, she wants to incorporate art into her education path, maybe with a dual major.