Sifting Through the Ashes

fire 13I’ll never forget watching my parents’ house burn down. The smoke billowing from the eaves and holes in the roof; the flames licking out from the top of the swamp cooler; the firefighters in khaki uniforms with bright yellow stripes, dousing hundreds of gallons of water into the brick structure I once called home.

Neighbors and strangers congregated behind the safe line. Friends and family stood near.

And we all just watched. We were completely helpless.

It’s nearly been a week since flames tore through my parents’ home on May 8, 2015. A week since their lives completely changed.

My husband and kids were taking me out for a Mother’s Day dinner when my mom called to tell me her home was on fire.

What?!?

We raced back into the van and headed straight for her house.

My husband couldn’t drive us fast enough. I was bursting out of my skin; dying to get there. I wanted to scream! My oldest sons were crying in the back, worried about my mom’s keepsake dolls and the family dog.

We were less than 7 miles away but it felt like 700. We could see the smoke from the freeway and I was certain there would be nothing left of the home.

fire 14I was the first family member to make it to the scene. We had to park a long ways away – past all the fire trucks, police cars and spectators.

I hopped out and ran faster than I can remember ever running.

But when I got there, there was nothing I could do. Nothing any of us could do.

We sat and waited. The firemen worked for a long time. They cut through the garage door with a chainsaw, they tore down the sheetrock ceiling and one fireman’s leg went through the kitchen floor.

They used thermal cameras to check for hot spots and watched the house to make sure no flames rekindled. A couple of times we heard loud popping noises.

The whole scene was surreal.

My parents were out to dinner when their neighbor called to tell them about the fire. By the time they were able to drive back home all of my siblings and our children were there. We hugged each other, we wiped each other’s tears and we all stood in shock.

I wanted more than anything to rush inside and grab an armful of sentimental pieces out. I wanted to get in there and save some belongings. I wanted to see into the windows and spot what damage may have been done. But we had to wait.

As the sky darkened and a few raindrops fell, we left the scene. A company came to board up the place and the firefighters would watch closely for any new fires sparking up.

It wasn’t safe to enter the home until the next day.

Honestly we all feared the worst. My mind pictured everything burned down to a giant pile of ash.

But it wasn’t.

Fire 11The kitchen was hit the hardest, but a couple of the back bedrooms were hardly touched. There was water damage everywhere and insulation and sheetrock lined the flooring of each room, but some of the rooms had very little soot and blackness.

My mom had a lot of sentimental keepsakes in her front living room. In my heart I hoped they were all right, but in my mind I knew they were probably gone.

When we stepped inside we were amazed at what we saw.

There stood my mom’s curio cabinet with soot-black glass. When we opened the door, dozens of my mom’s keepsake dolls stared back at us – even the pair of 200-year-old Danish dolls.

fire 15It was amazing.Fire 2

I was amazed at other things we found throughout the house. We saw bright colored packages of fruit snacks seemingly unharmed in a bottom cupboard in the charred kitchen. In the living room and hall we could see outline markings from where decorative shelves and picture frames once hung.

fire 7There were inspirational sayings taped to the bathroom mirror that were untouched and a pocket-sized Book of Mormon with only the corners scorched.

We sifted through a giant pile of charred kitchen goods to find some keepsakes from when my sister lived in China. And in the basement most of our pictures and childhood paperwork remained safe in plastic totes. fire 1

We found things we never thought we would see again.

I’ve learned a lot while sifting through the ashes of my parents’ home. A couple of things stand out.

First, I’ve learned to never give up hope. When night begin to fall the night of the fire I was certain we would never get anything out of the home again. I was positive that everything was lost. But just before we left, my mom and dad were allowed inside with the Fire Chief. They came out with a box of photo albums and a picture my mom had commissioned of the Savior holding my little baby Luca.

Since then we have been able to recover much, much more than I ever imagined. Sure there are a lot of things that can’t be saved. Like my mom’s piano – the same piano I learned to play on. The one her parents bought her when she first got married. The one with lose, easy-to-press-down keys. We watched them haul it out to a dumpster today. Even though the notes still played, it was too far gone to repair.

fire 5But there are toys and pictures and clothes and books. We even found our old family videos.

Even though at first it all seemed dark, all is not lost.

Second, people are amazing. My parents didn’t have anything the night their house burned down. No pajamas, no beds, no pillows. No contact solution, makeup or curling irons. No medications and no c-pap machines.

They didn’t have toothbrushes or hand soap. No laptops or kindles.

fire 3All of it was gone or out of reach.

But people rallied around them. They had friends and family reaching out to give them whatever they could.

They were given basic supply kits with items like toothbrushes and shampoo. One neighbor wrapped a jacket around my mom another let us all use her restroom, multiple times.

People have brought our entire family meals each night since the fire and thousands of dollars have been donated to my parents’ gofundme account.

Perfect strangers have given to my parents. Perfect strangers have offered kind words of encouragement. Perfect strangers have worked at the home, cleaning and gutting it out.

Fire 12Watching my parent’s home burn down has changed me. I know that everything is going to turn out all right. I know that my parents will continue to pick up and put back together the pieces of their lives. They will rebuild.

But I also know that it will be a long, hard process. I can’t even imagine what they are going through. I wish I could easily fix this mess for them. Easily take away their pain and their burden. But it is out of my control.

So for now I am going to join the group of many, many people who are supporting and cheering them on. I will be by their sides while they sift through the rest of the ashes. They have been there for me during my hardest trials. Now I am going to be there for them.

And I will be there when it’s finished.

We will get through this together. We will rise up from the ashes.

fire 4

3 Comments (+add yours?)

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  2. Dave
    Nov 26, 2016 @ 22:52:42

    Hello. I want to thank yo so much for what you wrote. My parents house burned down November 7, 2016. This was the house they built 39 years ago and the house I grew up in. This was a house that someone from our church said became a “staple in our community because of all the people who have come through those doors and have been fed and have found peace and a safe haven” in my parents house. When I got that call at 4AM that my parents home, my childhood home was burning, I couldn’t get to them fast enough. I live over 3 hours away from them and made it home in less than 2 1/2 hours that morning. To see my dad standing there watching his home and everything he worked his entire life go up in flames was heart wrenching. To see my mom come out of my sisters house with only her house coat, broken and at a loss was the worst thing I have ever seen. My mom is the strongest woman I know and the pillar of our family. To see her at such a loss almost killed me. One smoke detector in the house woke them up at 4AM and got them out of the house with just seconds to spare. Having to go through all this over the past weeks has changed me. It has changed me in ways that I believe people who have gone through this would only understand. The support of our community has been overwhelming. Your points about what to do for people in that situation was on point because that was exactly what we were going through. My mom couldn’t really see well because she left her glasses in the house which was turned to ash. My parents lost everything, every sentimental thing I grew up with and that my mom collected was gone. My parents getting out of the house was the best news I would ever hear. But now that the tragedy is over and the moving forward has begun, it becomes harder than most realize. I appreciate your article because I can totally relate. God Bless you! Thank you!
    Dave

    Reply

    • Natalie
      Dec 01, 2016 @ 07:57:10

      Dave, I am so sorry for what your family is going through. That is so devastating. A house fire is something you think will never happen to you or your own family. I feel so terrible for you parents and the rest of your family. It has been a year and a half since my parents’ fire and they are still picking up the pieces. They have boxes in their garage that they still need to sort through but it’s hard emotionally. It brings back all the shock from the night we watched it all burn down. Do they know how your parent’s fire started? I hope you can find some peace in coming weeks. Bless YOU!
      Natalie

      Reply

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