June 2, 1990 - Bluffs of Wildwood Condominiums

Fairfield, Ohio

Just a few minutes after midnight on June 2, 1990, a tornado struck the Bluffs of Wildwood condos in Fairfield, Ohio. At the time I lived in this complex, and my entire row of five condos escaped any direct damage. I was in the basement talking on the cordless phone to my brother, who was in California at the time. My wife was asleep upstairs, my stepson Jake was in his room on the second floor. There was no doubt the storm was vicious, and the winds were very gusty. But there was a sudden hammering sound that lasted maybe 5-6 seconds, unlike anything I've ever heard in a storm before. Witnesses often describe the arrival of a tornado as sounding like a "freight train", but I've heard thousands of freight trains and none were quite like this. It was just a sudden upsurge, followed by a sound as if a 20-foot giant was beating on the front wall of the condo, like the big bad wolf. I can't really say if I felt any kind of pressure drop. The power went out momentarily, and I lost the phone connection. I went upstairs, not knowing if I'd find anything left. I took a walk outside, and saw no apparent damage to our building, or the ones up the hill in front of us, but there was the typical post-storm litter of sticks and leaves and some of the neighbors' patio furniture had tumbled down the hill. It was then I ran into one of the neighbors who said there were two carports down.

I got up at the crack of dawn the next morning, a Saturday, and took these pictures you are about to see. No one outside my family has ever seen them until now. Within just a few hours, the cleanup had begun - had I slept in just another hour, many of these pictures would have been impossible. The pictures show God's reward for having survived a tornado - a gorgeous, clear, crisp sunny day to survey the damage and begin the cleanup process. As tornados go, this was a very small one. Much smaller than the one that hit to the southwest of us in Fairfield, which leveled much of an entire street. The "Bluffs Tornado" was the kind that the weather guys argue about for weeks as to whether or not it was a "real" tornado. Jake saw from his second floor window the normal storm and lightning, then said "everything turned white" as the pulse hit.

I say we escaped direct damage, but shortly after, most of our second floor electrical outlets went dead. I ended up having to rewire because apparently somewhere in the front wall, a wire had been pulled apart by the force of the storm, so apparently our building was rattled a bit more than we thought. Eighteen months later, we moved out of the condo. I visited the area recently, and it's very shady now, with many mature trees. The tornado damage was completely repaired and all traces of it were gone within just a few weeks after the hit. There were no injuries, but this arguable tornado easily did a million dollars in property damage. Now, the pictures.

This is the front of the row of four condos that were directly up the hill and in front of ours. The damage was almost entirely caused by the carport across the drive being flown like a kite into the front of the building.
I can't explain why the condo on the right appears to have no end wall! It does in the previous picture. Only thing I can figure is that the sun's glare was so bright that it flooded out the film completely. Very strange!
Chimney didn't quite come all the way down. Dig that really high grade fake brick veneer!
View looking the other way - you can clearly see the end triangular gusset of the carport leaning against the wall. Virtually all of the wood debris you see is from the carport.
Across the main road from the first row, a 2-stall carport was picked up and flown about 150 feet into the front of this condo building. Unlike the other one, this one was small and light and got up to some speed before it hit. Most of the material is draped over the T-Bird, or crammed into the back of the Dodge Daytona.
This remains my favorite picture of the batch. That's a 2x12, not exactly sharp on any edge... yet it's sliced into the eave of this condo like a knife. I would say the occupants of this building are lucky the 2x12 came in flat, instead of lengthwise. You can even see the counterclockwise path in the angle of the cut. This was one of the scenes that was very quickly cleared, so I don't know if anyone else got a photo of this incredible bit of natural force.
Note the front wheels of the Dodge Daytona up on the sidewalk. I don't think it was parked that way!
Around behind that row, a much larger 8-stall carport didn't get up a lot of momentum - it just rocked back and forth and fell down on the cars underneath it. When I came upon this scene right after it hit, around 12:20 am, there was a car underneath still running. The driver had just pulled into the carport, heard wood snapping, and bailed out leaving the engine running. Based on what I've seen in these photos, if it happened to me in the future, I'd stick with the car.
A look from the other end. Those 6x6 uprights had steel clamps that had been shot into the concrete to hold them up. They pretty much snapped like matchsticks once the force was applied. Interesting that this carport fell in the direction which would have been against the wind, which leads me to believe that it was probably rocked back and forth briefly and then fell in this position.
The Bluffs was originally supposed to have 300 condos, but construction was halted at 62 (mine was the last building completed) in 1984. The developer, Ryland Homes, pulled out leaving the whole place underfunded and with no organizational structure. I participated in the politics long enough to realize it was a mistake to ever buy a condominium in the first place. By 1990, the remaining land had been sold and a new development of single family homes was being built right up against the Bluffs. This house was framed and insulated, as you can see, but came straight down under the force of the tornado.
Hard to believe this was a full 2-story house the day before. Because it had not been drywalled or finished inside, it was basically as much of a kite as the carports. But it didn't fly apart, it just dropped straight down, as if the whole first story was cut out from under it.
This would have been the garage, and probably the laundry room to the left.
An irresistable photo, the irony is just a bit too much. Obviously this sturdy-brace wasn't sturdy enough, but probably not designed to take on even this "junior" tornado, and certainly not in an unfinished frame. But it makes for a fun picture.
My 68 Big Block Chevy was parked up the hill - condos above are the ones from the first photos with the smashed fronts. Carport to right is in front of our condo, which is out of the picture to the right. That's a nice 4x8 sheet of plywood from the roof of the carport on the OTHER side of the condos, covered with shingles and wedged NAILS-UP under the left front wheel of the Chevy. It blew over there like a piece of paper, but it took all my strength to drag it out from under the Chevy.
Where the carports fell, I suggested it may have been safe to stay in the car, but I would not have wanted to be in this T-top Camaro. This is what I found when I ventured down the street, west of the Bluffs near Gilmore Rd. Not the kind of structural damage as in the Bluffs, but lots of trees down, and the wooden fence along Gilmore that acted as a noise barrier to this neighborhood was chopped to pieces.
By the time I returned, guys from the construction company were already on-site checking out the dropped house. The next day they came in with some dumpsters and a bulldozer and cleaned the foundation without a trace. The developer was still selling home sites, and thought a wrecked house wouldn't be too good for their image I guess! House was rebuilt very quickly to the same plan, and the replacement still stands today. I wonder if it's present owners ever know what happened to the first structure built on that parcel of land?

Notice the siding peeled off the finished homes in the background.

Returning to the first row of condos, you can already see that the residents have removed most of their personal effects from the second story. The cleanup progressed so quickly that I was amazed.
And the owner will be glad to know, the east wall has re-appeared!