Wow. That’s the only thing I can think to type to introduce this. It seems the only word that pops into my head as I think of the experience. Getting right into it, 4 years ago our lives went up in flames and we seemed to be tossed around, being thrown at one obstacle after another. As I type this, memories keep flooding back to me as if it was yesterday, even years later. I thought it might give some closure to type everything out and take this day to not only remember what happened, but look how far we’ve come. With no further ado, here’s how I remember the morning of October 25.
I woke up that Friday morning to get my shower and get ready for school. I crept down my loft bed, trying not to disturb my sisters as they slept underneath. Our grandparents had been coming from Virginia to spend Halloween with us, which they had never done before. We cleaned their room to prepare them for what we thought was going to be a late night arrival. After grabbing my clothes and sneaking out of my room, I noticed two odd things: one, the door to my sister’s room was open, meaning my grandparents had not come in last night and two, a really odd smell, like you just turned the heater on for the first time that year, except we had already run it a few times that season.
My morning continued as normal. I took a quick shower, popped some leftover waffles in the microwave for breakfast, and sat down to eat. Abby and Sara eventually stumbled out of the room, still in their pjs, and got their breakfast and asked when dad left to go hunting that morning. Then they asked about the weird smell. My mom had noticed the smell as well, and started looking for the source. She “sniff tested” everywhere until she found a spot right in front of my bedroom. She waved her hands around and said “It has to be right around here.” She looked over to the living room and gasped.
Flames sprouted from the vents. Mom yelled “Girls, grab your coats and get in the car! I’ll be right behind you!” I started running toward my room, but there was already black smoke billowing from it. I met Abby and Sara beside the door. One asked “Should we get our shoes?” I screamed “No!” and we ran out the door and into the car. A few minutes passed before my mom came out the front door with our dog and was talking on her cell phone. “Please hurry,” she kept saying. “Please hurry.”
We pulled our car to the side of the road to make room for fire trucks that would be pulling in soon. My mom got out of the car to greet a first responder, who had showed up around 5 minutes after she ended to call to 911. I remember thinking about how, as an 11 year old, this was going to be a great story for when I went to school later today, because everything was going to be fine, right?
Then we saw the flames. The way my room was, it had a window facing the road where we parked. Bright orange flames at first only sputtered out, but soon became roaring out. Where were the fire trucks? Where was dad? Would I ever see my room again? How could this happen?
Abby and Sara, 9 at the time, saw them too. I tried to comfort or distract them in any way I could. Hey, look at how cute our dog is. Wow look at the cars! I eventually covered the rearview mirror with a towel and tried not to look at the fire. The fire trucks got there, and so did my dad, some friends, and even some teachers that had been on their way to school that morning. They would all talk to my mom and hug her, give her money, pray for her, anything they could offer. then they’d crawl into the car and talk to us while trying to keep us, and maybe even themselves, calm.
My dad finally sat in the car with us and brought our neighbors to the window. He explained that we would be going to their house, just for a little while, while they put the fire out. He sighed and told us that we would be incredibly lucky if anything at all came out of the house.
We went out of the car, me with no jacket or no shoes, and we walked up the street to their house. We went inside and sat on the couch in total shock. The neighbors, family friends of ours, struck up a conversation to keep us distracted. Then there was a knock on the door. I recognized one of the people at the door, the first responder, and a man, who I assumed was her husband or coworker. They had gone to Walmart to get us some clothes and shoes, just an outfit for each of us to keep us warm. We changed, my sisters especially thankful to get out of their pajamas, and I decided to read, play a board game, play the piano (even though I had never played in my life) to pass time. Around noontime, the fire was finally put out. We marched down back to our house, and nothing could prepare us for seeing what we did.
It was a shell of our house. In the same corner my room used to be, a few charred sticks and floors only around the walls. My sisters’ and parents’ room were in better shape, but not by much. The firefighters and my dad had strewn as much as they could across the yard. I went beside my sisters’ old room. We started picking up half-charred stuffed animals and thinking we could save it. we called for our cat, who hadn’t been seen since that morning (we later found him, passed away, in what used to be our basement).
Random cars would pull up the driveway and my parents would talk to them. Some more teachers and my friends had all come to visit, and one even took us to go get ice cream. (My friend named a minecraft world “SCREW THE HOUSEFIRE” in honor of me on this particular trip. I think about that a lot) Then we saw my dad’s truck. The back had been opened and trash bags filled the back. I realized they all had clothes, hygiene products, money, and whatever people could bring.
People had noticed our house, in view of a street that connected to the interstate, and the many projects we had done, animals we kept, and gardens we did. They, complete strangers filled up bags and bags of what they could, and tossed them int the back of the truck, in the barn, and even brought them to the hotel we would be staying in that night. I learned a lot that day, but it taught me that there is still a lot of good in the world. STRANGERS had comforted us in the time of need with whatever they had. One man ran up to my dad and told him that he was on his way to work, so he had nothing to give us, but he wanted to pray with my dad. There are so many more stories my parents could tell you, but that’s a blogpost for another time.
My grandparents had arrived sometime then. They booked the hotel we would stay at for the next few weeks and comforted us and helped us come up with a plan on what we should do next. One of my grandma’s favorite restaurants is Cracker Barrel, so she decided to take us all there. We ate, trying to talk and plan, when I started laughing, despite myself. My mom had been so busy throughout the day that she forgot to change out of her pajamas. We had been getting odd stares all evening, and now I knew why. Then I realized we all looked like a wreck, after the day we had. For whatever reason, that made me laugh harder. Soon we were all laughing at what happened, and that’s when I knew we were going to be ok.
I could write an entire book on the weeks and years after, getting back on our feet and how God’s hand had led us through everything. But, one memory in particular that sticks out to me even today. I was sitting at school waiting to be picked up with a few of my guy friends. I got myself worked up asking what if dad hadn’t gone to the woods? What would have happened if I saved my cat? I asked so many what ifs that I found myself breaking down right in front of these poor middle school boys who didn’t really understand “emotions” quite yet. Finally, one of them said to me, “Don’t worry yourself over the what ifs and buts of the situation. This thing that happened to you, it’s horrible, and I’m sorry, but it happened, and theres nothing we can do about it now. But, we can focus on the now, and go from there.” That hit me like a ton of bricks. Then, before I could respond, I was called to go home.
Many years later, this day sticks with me, but I remember how much love was surrounding me and my family that day. I want to thank you for all that love. One misconception is that I regret that it happened. That is not completely true. I am so sad that it happened, but we never would have ended up where we are today with so many people and friend I love very deeply. That day changed who I am. Lastly, I want you to do too things: one: go to your room, your house, your backyard, and your family, and memorize it. Enjoy it. You never know when it might all be gone. Two: make a plan. I cannot stress this enough. People need to know what to do in that situation should you need it. Pack a bug out bag. Get smoke alarms. Get a security system. Do what you need to do to make sure you and your family is safe. You might be thinking to yourself “it will never happen to me“. I thought the same thing. But, we went over plans at least once every year when we were young make sure we knew. I can’t say what would have happened had I not gone this, but I think we would have very different results. That is what I remember from the fire. Thank you.