Monday, February 24, 2020 will go down in the books as one of those days that forever changed our lives. This will be a journal for myself, as much as anything. There are memories that I don’t want to get lost in the sea of my whirling brain.
5:00 a.m. My alarm went off. Feeling sleepy, I hit dismiss. I meant to hit snooze, but it never went off again, so I must have turned it off. I lay there for a bit, sort of dozing in and out, postponing the start of my day by a few minutes, with no idea whatsoever what the next 10 minutes was going to bring into our lives.
5:10 a.m. Our labrador, Dixie, began to whimper to go out, so I sleepily got out of bed to let her out. As I made my way out of our dark bedroom, I caught a slight smell of smoke. I looked around quickly, but the smell seemed to disappear. I let the dog out and went into the bathroom. By the time I came out, the smell of smoke was getting strong. I asked my husband, “What is that smell?” He then jumped out of bed and we began searching for the source. We turned on the light. The room was very hazy, and it seemed to be coming up from the floor. I headed for the basement door, and William called to me to put on my shoes, but I think I had my slippers on… I think… and I kept going. When I opened the basement door, smoke rolled out.
I yelled back to William, “It’s definitely in the basement.” (Our basement is, was, unfinished. No one sleeps down there.) He came rushing in and stuck his head down into the stairwell to take a look, and I followed, with our shirts pulled over our mouths and noses. A few steps down the stairwell, and we could see the source of the smoke. There was a fire directly under our bedroom. It really didn’t seem that big, William thought we could put it out.
He told me to wake up the big boys, and ran to get wet towels. (We did have a fire extinguisher, but I am embarrassed to say that we couldn’t remember where it was… All my firefighter friends are going to want to smack me for that.)
I quickly woke up the boys, Lex (14) first, and then Tadan (16). (11 of our 17 kids still live at home. The older 6 are grown and have left the nest.) They jumped out of bed with a speed I’ve rarely seen from them, when it comes to getting up early in the morning. They ran to help their dad, and I ran to get our baby girl, Alaina, who was asleep in our bed, right above the fire. (Incidentally, it was her birthday! 2 years old.) I moved her into a different room, and headed back to the basement door. (All of this, at a pace that is… uh…somewhat uncommon for this 43 year old mama at 5 something in the morning before coffee.)
As I reached the basement door, Lex was hurrying out, “Get the kids out” he said, and right behind him was Tadan, and William, all repeating the same words, each one more urgent than the last. Later, William told me that the fire had quadrupled in size by the time they got down there with the towels. And there was a hissing sound coming from somewhere.
I ran upstairs to wake the girls. My big kids sprang into action, grabbing little kids, and we had everyone outside and into our 15 passenger van very, very quickly. (This is a great example of our buddy system in action! It has always been useful, but I didn’t know that it might someday save lives! Praise God, who works all things together for good!)
At the moment, all the flames were still in the basement, and I ran back inside. Janaya (17) and Tadan helped William and I get our dogs and 3 week old puppies outside. We have two purebred labs that we had bred, each with a litter of 5 puppies. (We sound like a circus. 2 parents, 11 kids, 2 mama dogs, and 10 puppies. Who am I kidding, we ARE a circus.)
Outside, rain was pouring down. The ground was a soft, muddy mess. Which made every step more difficult.
I ran back inside for a third time. This time I grabbed keys, my purse, my phone, and as I ran through the dining room, I saw my laptop sitting on the table. In an instant, I thought of all the pictures on it, and I grabbed it. By this time, the smoke was burning my throat, and I knew there was no going back in. Coughing up smoke, I climbed in the van. William was moving other vehicles away from the house. He wanted to get them away from the house in case of explosion. (Several drivers in the house + living 14 miles from town = several vehicles.)
We then agreed that I would drive the kids to my parents house, all except for 16 year old Tadan, who stayed behind to help William. As I drove, Janaya called my mom to tell her what was happening. She walked out on the porch, and they could see the fire from there. They live about 3 miles away. I dropped them off, and headed back to William and Tadan. Less than a mile from Mom and Dad’s I was gripped by a moment of panic. Even though we had counted and recounted the kids, I was suddenly afraid that we did not have everyone. I called my mom, and said “Please count everyone one more time.” She said, “How many am I supposed to have?” “Ten,” I answered. She quickly counted to 10, and then began naming each face around her. As she said each name, I relaxed a little more. When she was finished, I broke down in tears, “Okay, that’s all I need.”
Upon my return to our place, the house was completely engulfed in flames.
We stood there at the end of the driveway watching our house burn for a few minutes, and shed some more tears.
About that time, the first firefighter arrived. I imagine the incredibly muddy roads combined with our rural address and the darkness slowed them down some.
We decided to send Tadan to Grandpa’s with another vehicle. I would follow in the van to pick him up and then we would come after another vehicle. I tried to turn the van around and head west, but that was a mistake. The smoke was so thick that I could not see where I was at all, and I got stuck in the muddy field across the road. I felt pretty smart. Should have gone east, not through the smoke. But it was still dark and I didn’t really know how thick that smoke was until I was in it. There was nothing to do but leave the van where it was and get out.
I could not see anything, but then I heard William yelling my name, and turning around I saw the headlights of his truck. He yelled to me to walk towards them, so I stumbled in that direction until I was clear of the smoke.
I then climbed into the Dodge pickup, and drove EAST from the house. William followed me in his 4 wheel drive. As it continued to rain, the roads were so soft that I could barely even keep moving. The pickup moved slower and slower in the mud until I was stuck again, this time in the middle of the road. I believe I can accurately say, that is the first time in my life that I got stuck in the mud twice before the sun came up.
William pulled around in front of me in his truck and hooked up a tow strap. He pulled me a couple of miles until we were on more solid ground. As we crept westward along the road a mile north of our house, I could see the fire burning to my left. It all seemed completely unreal.
The volunteer firefighters worked for hours to put out the fire. Among them was my uncle, and several of our friends. They did not begin to leave the scene until around 10 a.m. The main part of the house was completely flattened. The addition that we built 18 years ago was still partially standing. But everything inside was burned.
Looking at the ruins, I have no doubt that the only reason we are all alive, is because God spared us. Apparently, he isn’t finished with this crew yet!
Later that afternoon, reporters from two different news stations came to see the damage and interview us. I gotta tell ya, I was not exactly looking my best for my television debut! Ha!
We began to look around in the rubble for the first time, with a KSN reporter following along. As we talked, I spotted the charred remains of my Bible! It was about 70% intact, and the pages were readable! Let me explain to you how astounding this is:
The fire started directly below our bed. Our bed was completely burned up. Looking down into the foundation, I could see the what remained of the bed springs, and a warped and twisted metal bed frame. There was no trace of any bedding or mattress, or the wooden headboard.
But my Bible, which had been on the nightstand next to our bed, along with other books, a lamp, and an alarm clock, remained. There was no nightstand, no lamp, nothing else. Just that Bible. I found it resting on the top of a large, sturdy, metal shelf in the basement where the fire actually began.
The KSN reporter, a terrific, likable young man named John Asebes, was standing beside me when I spotted it. He actually hopped down into the basement and onto that shelf to get it for me. John was as fascinated as we were, and took several pictures of it. He asked me, “What do you think that means?”
I replied, “I KNOW God was watching over us.” And then, “The Word of the Lord endures forever!”
“Amen!” he quickly agreed. He told me that he had never seen a house burned so badly, in which so many family members all made it out alive. In fact, I think he mentioned it several times.
We wandered around to the east side of the house, and through what remained of the doorway leading into our family room. On the wall across the room, directly in front of us was a red cross. The red was actually the paint on that wall, but the rest of the wall was blackened with smoke and soot.
A wooden cross, bearing the many names of Jesus, had been hanging there, and had protected the paint, leaving the image of the cross on the wall. I found the wooden cross on the floor below, burned but intact. The words engraved on it are still readable! I will have the cross preserved in a shadow box, and it will hang in whatever is to be our new home!
I will continue this story as it unfolds. For now, I will close with an overwhelming sense of God’s protection and mercy. I know this fire did not come as a surprise to Him. And in the fullness of time, within the bounds of His parameters, He allowed this event to occur. I do not know what happens from here. But He does, and He has never let me down yet. He won’t start now.