I visited the Winger’s home to bring some ballet shoes we picked up for their little girls after theirs were destroyed (along with everything else) in the fire. They have three year-old boy/girl twins and a five year-old daughter. It is hard to describe the difference between hearing about someone’s loss and the visceral experience of breathing in the smokey air. It was not the pleasant smell of a campfire or barbeque. It was the smell of burnt teddy bears and plastic toys. There were blackened ceilings and melted flooring. The blankets knitted by the children’s great grandmother were destroyed by smoke. Toys made of plastic absorbed the smoke and became toxic and unfit for play. The wall of family pictures Leah lovingly arranged in their hallway were burned to a crisp. Only square shadows of the frames were left imprinted in smoke on what was left of the walls.
This was three year-old Ben’s room. Can you imagine your child’s room looking like this?
I volunteer for the Red Cross. I have been in shelters helping families while fires raged threatening and ravaging homes. We have anxiously watched the news as fires burned near our home. I thought I got it. I did not. And I don’t get it the way the Winger family gets it. They saw the firefighters throw their children’s burning toys out the windows of their home because they could reignite the fire. They saw the physical memories of their family destroyed in twenty minutes. Twenty minutes. Twenty minutes is how long it took from the moment the children’s grandmother smelled the smoke and called 911 until the time the firefighters put it out. Twenty minutes. The rooms where they tucked their children in at night turned into burned out caverns. The sense that their children’s rooms are a safe space will never be the same for them, even after their house is rebuilt. When that twenty minutes was up, they could fall through the floors of their son’s room into the garage below and see the sky through the burned out roof. They have gone back day after day to see what, if anything can be salvaged.
The finish came off the kitchen table as the children did art projects and rolled hot wheels across the top. This was the table where their father enjoyed family meals as a child and played with his own toys on the surface. The table was considered a loss because it was no longer properly sealed. I went back to the Winger’s home on another day and picked up that table so that Greg can sand and refinish it for them. They lost almost everything of sentimental value in the house. We hope that this well loved table can be salvaged and saved for them. Greg is happy to help and I will help with the project in any way I can.
There have been times that the batteries have run low on our fire alarm and a screeching beeping noise has rung out through the house. Dare I say that I found that sound annoying? The truth is that we should have been changing the batteries on a regular schedule, rather than waiting for the alarm to beep.. If their children had been home and the fire alarm had not been functional, it is extremely likely that their children would have died in the fire. It is amazing how fast a fire spreads. We will make regular battery changes on our alarms a priority now.
While I could return from their burned home and wash the smokey smell from my hair and clothing, they don’t have a home in which to return. The Wingers prepared for their daughter’s first day of kindergarten in a hotel. They needed to go out and get her a ‘first day of school dress’ after hers was destroyed in the fire. Jennifer Fischer of The Good Long Road (who does a tremendous amount to help people in the community and through her blog) met me at the Winger home when I went back there to pick up the table. She had already written a wonderful article about their family in the news and, like me, had a new understanding of the fire after smelling it and seeing the aftermath firsthand.
The children have not seen the burned out remains of their home and they won’t. When it is in the later stages of rebuilding, estimated to take nine to twelve months, they will see their ‘new house’ being built. Twenty minutes. In twenty minutes a home can be destroyed or help can be rendered. Most of the twenty minute blocks in our days go by without significance. Maybe you can take twenty minutes to check your home’s fire alarms and make sure they have batteries. Perhaps you can make a donation to help the Winger family. Maybe your children could learn about acts of kindness by having a bake sale (or finding another creative way) to help. Maybe you can share this post on your Facebook page to spread the word. The Wingers’ twins are only six months older than the Sugar Snaps. Their daughter is the same age as our niece. Seeing their burned rooms was terrifying. I will never forget the smell of burned toys. We are doing what we can to help. Any help you could provide this family would be appreciated. You never know when your own family may need help.