North County woman remembers sister killed in 2003 wildfires

Allyson Watson's sister killed in Paradise Fire

SAN DIEGO - The 2003 wildfires forever changed the life of Allyson Watson.

"I don't think the memory of that day will ever fade," Watson said.

Ten years has not erased her pain of losing her younger sister.

"We were blessed to be very close. My brother, sister and I were always very, very close," Watson said.

Back then, when her last name was Roach, the then-20-year-old Allyson suffered serious burns as she and her family rushed to evacuate their Valley Center home in the Paradise Fire.

She survived, but her 16-year-old sister, Ashleigh Roach, did not.

"Something that traumatic can never be erased from your memory," Watson said.

Her physical scars also cannot be erased. After the fire, she spent nearly three months in the hospital. To date, she has had more than 30 surgeries.

"I had to re-learn what I looked like. I had to re-learn how to use my hands. I had to get used to the idea that I was always going to be stared at," Watson said.

But she continued to move forward. She studied photography at Palomar College, and it was while she was working as a photographer at the Wild Animal Park she met Chris Watson.

The two married in 2009, and 15 months ago, she gave birth to her son.

"I never thought that anything would be more wonderful than being married to my husband, but when my son came into the world, it just felt like everything had completed itself," she said.

Though her life is filled with blessings, there was always something - someone -- missing.

"I can handle my burn injuries. I can handle being stared at. I can handle the work challenges," Watson said. "The one thing I haven't been able to cope well with is losing my sister."

"She missed my wedding, she missed my son's birth, and that's the one thing that I just can't handle is not having her with us," Watson added, holding back tears.

With fire danger an ongoing threat, she sends an important reminder.

"Your family, your own lives are much more important than a house. Granted, those memories are special and it's sad to lose them, but it would be more sad not to have a future with them," Watson said.

Arson was the suspected cause of the Paradise Fire, and Watson said she and her family are disappointed the person responsible was never arrested.

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