Meet three locals who know a thing or two about keeping the flame going.
Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Lisa Staff
There’s a reason fire has fascinated mankind since the beginning. It’s a dynamic force of nature, one that can wreak utter destruction or light a path forward. It can spark a movement, or it can sear a steak. The key is controlling it, manipulating it toward its most useful end.
Fire can be many things. To each of these three locals, it means something very different. They all forged their own relationships with the flame, and each emerged with a story to tell.
Candles remind this Bluffton woman that she’s not alone.
In December of 2018 Angie Evangelista’s idyllic life was plunged into darkness.
The people who filled her life with light and love – her husband, Leo, their two sons, their circle of friends – never left her side, but such was this darkness that all of them lay just beyond her sight. It was an inky void that descended on her the moment she received a diagnosis of breast cancer.
“I would feel depressed and just so lifeless,” she said. “I’d always question, ‘Why me? I’m so young’… It was a whole circle of darkness for us during that time.”
However, as St. Francis of Assisi once said, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
Friends, fellow members of their church and even a few strangers had delivered gifts for Angie, many of them candles. Her passion for candles was well known, and she was burning them nearly constantly to stave off the darkness that hung over her.
“I was down to one candle, and when I lit that candle, that spark… for me it was just like a realization that things are going to get better,” she said. “It was that spark that made me very grateful that I’m still here, still getting treatment. You’re not alone and there are people that love you and support you… I’m going to make more candles so whenever there are women like me, they can light that candle and have that realization that they’re not alone.”
That flame ignited her passion, dispelling the darkness and allowing her to reconnect with her life. Now kindled into a roaring fire, it led Angie to start making her own, blending soy wax with essential oil-infused fragrances that ensnare the senses.
Realizing almost immediately that she had something far greater than just a new hobby on her hands, Angie threw herself into her candles as a new business. After a slow start, Bluffton Candles was born. “We named it Bluffton Candles because we wanted to signify not only the place, but the people of Bluffton,” she said.
Starting out in gift stores, Bluffton Candles had to pivot when the pandemic shuttered all their retailers in March. “We thought 2020 was going to be our year,” said Angie with a laugh. Instead, they launched an online store where their candles are now joined by room sprays, hand soaps, loose tea and home décor under the banner of The Bluffton Shop.
And each candle is still poured by hand on the center island of the Evangelistas’ kitchen. “If we start making them after dinner, we’re lucky to be done by around midnight. It’s tiresome but rewarding,” she said. “The most we did was 100 candles in one night.”
Now in remission for a year and a half, Angie’s future is looking brighter than ever.
This tree expert provides firewood for local homes and businesses.
Everyone knows where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
But for Bruce Steed, a better saying might be, “Where’s there’s fire, there’s wood.”
Steed knows wood, an expertise honed over 39 years in the tree business. Getting his start as a teen, raking up pine straw, he eventually worked his way up to the topmost branch: owning his own firm, BS Tree Experts.
Trimming mostly in residential yards, getting trees out from over roofs and driveways, Steed and his crew spend the majority of their time just making sure these trees stay where they’re supposed to. “We do a lot of trimming up palms and removing the seeds so they don’t drop on pool decks and cars.”
But alongside the fronds and berries are the thick trunks and branches of the pines, oaks and cedars that thrive in the Lowcountry soil. When Hurricane Matthew came through, Steed and BS Tree Experts were part of the “chainsaw brigade” helping clear away debris from the storm.
“That was crazy. I was working from daylight to dark, and even then I couldn’t take care of it all with the people I had,” said Steed. “I got calls in Pritchardville, Hardeeville, Hilton Head, Bluffton… I couldn’t run everywhere.”
Even in the post-storm era, the rapid growth of the Lowcountry’s trees means there’s always a tree that needs trimming. And keeping those trimmed means finding something to do with what’s left.
“I was having to pay to get rid of the wood, so I just started splitting it up and selling it,” he said. “I salvage all the wood that I cut. We chip some stuff up, but the good hard wood we keep for firewood.”
Most of his customers are residential, with Hampton Lake in particular keeping Steed busy. But he does point out that as soon as the Smokehouse opens, he’ll be bringing them plenty of hickory.
“Hickory just gives barbecue a little bit of a smoke that changes the whole flavor it,” he said. “Without that wood, it’s a little bland. I can tell the difference.”
Supplying wood for barbecues, outdoor fireplaces and indoor fireplaces means stacking up cords to season for a year. As Steed puts it, “Dry wood burns better.”
It’s not just the humidity. It’s the species. Steed is quick to point his customers toward the right wood for the right job. For an indoor fireplace, for example, he recommends water oak.
“Live oak is so hard, and it’s hard to split. And it takes a lot longer for it to dry out,” he said. “And obviously pine’s no good.”
For those who don’t follow, pine sap can stop up your chimney. “I’ve seen it before,” he said.
Hilton Head’s ‘Firefighter of the Year’ loves giving back to the community that raised him.
Fire can be a source of inspiration. It can be the focal point around which we share stories. It can feed us, keep us warm. But we must never forget that fire can be deadly.
That’s where our brave firefighters come in, protecting us from the more destructive side of the inferno’s wrath. Like so many of his hook and ladder brothers and sisters, Lee Jenkins is dedicated to keeping people safe. But as a native islander working on Hilton Head Island, that mission means a little more.
“As a native islander, what better thing could I be doing than giving back to my community?” he said. “It adds another element of understanding because (I grew up) on Hilton Head Island. Most people aren’t able to work where they grew up.”
Jenkins took what he calls a “nontraditional path” to firefighting. A graduate of USC in Columbia with a degree in marketing, he had pursued his career path all the way to a prestigious firm in Atlanta. But for a self-professed country boy accustomed to growing up hunting and riding horses with his father’s Ridgeland side of the family, the city just didn’t feel right. Plus, as he says, “I love my mom too much to be five hours away.”
Spurred by his cousin, a retired battalion chief, Jenkins applied for a spot at Hilton Head Fire and Rescue. He had moved back home and was working at Enterprise cleaning out rental cars in the sweltering heat when the call came in. “Bonnie Evans called me and offered me the position,” he said. “Before she’d even told me what the compensation package was, I said, ‘I’ll take it.’”
He soon proved himself as a supremely competent member of the team, rising to captain over the span of his 15-year career on the strength of his leadership skills. “I always tell my guys, ‘You don’t work for me, you all work with me and we all work for the community,’” he said.
His able leadership recently led to two of the top honors for a firefighter: Officer of the Year for the Town of Hilton Head Island as well as Rotary Club of Hilton Head Island’s Firefighter of the Year.
“To get both of those awards in one year, I was definitely humbled,” he said. “I’m very grateful. A lot of people other than myself deserve the award. I was just the one who accepted it.”
To Jenkins, the biggest reward is working in the community that raised him and having the opportunity to give back by keeping them safe. “That’s what’s important to me,” he said. “Being able to reach people where they are.”