Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hope Admist the Chaos

As I entered the scene of my first fire I couldn’t help but be apprehensive; adrenaline rushing through my veins, my mind prepared to face whatever was to come. When people compare their life’s experiences to a scene in a movie you never truly understand what they mean until it happens to you. The experiences I lived through that day are as surreal today as they were when they occurred in real time.

Early in the morning on November 30th a fire erupted in a home in Fresno County. Flames licked the vulnerable wood, destroying everything in its path. Five people, including a 6-year-old girl escaped.

Eastbound Manning Avenue near McCall near Selma was partially shut down to give crews room to work. The road has since reopened, but a Fresno County family now has nothing left.

The flames moved so quickly, Wayne Little didn't even have time to grab shoes. His neighbors lent him some after he got out of the house. "I don't even have my wallet. No money, no food, Nothin," said Little.

Just before 6 a.m. the family awoke to flames in the attic. "So at that point, I started yelling 'Everybody Out!' I went and grabbed my daughter."

He, and the rest of his family got out, but couldn't save their pets.

"I could hear the cat crying... I tried to get him out and I couldn't. It burned fast."

Firefighters say the age and instability of the 1920's-era home just added to the dangers at the scene.

"We had power lines down, gas line ruptured, so firefighters decided to take defensive action on the home," said John Dominguez with Fresno County Cal-Fire.

The family watched their home and possessions burn to the ground -- grateful for their lives -- but left with little else.

The family says they were renting the house and have no insurance. Firefighters are still investigating how the fire started. They have ruled out arson.
While standing by the main entrance waiting to enter the home a gentleman approached one of the Red Cross responders to say thank you for being there to help and for providing assistance to fire victims. Only then did I realize, as I watched the man walk away, how influential the Red Cross fire response team is in the Valley and how many people we actually help throughout the year.

As I walked into the home the damage became more severe; wall plaster laden the floors and water pooled on the landings. I looked around to take everything in: the half broken down door laying on it’s side mocked the residence, shouting ‘security no longer resides here, comfort is no longer welcome’; the bright white clouds from outside reflected themselves in the shards of glass that layered the carpet; the smell of burning wood and smoke hovered in the air like an oppressive cloud, never ceasing to evaporate.

The only things standing were the skeleton-like walls. I took another step deeper into the black hole that someone once called home. Nothing. Everything was completely destroyed. Black soot settled on every surface leaving no trace of life. In a child’s room the juxtaposition of an innocent toy lying next to scraps of wood and ash almost made me laugh because it should never belong there amongst that kind of destruction. I could try to describe what I saw but could never do it justice. In that moment I was filled with anger and a sadness, which consumed my heart. How could this happen, I thought? Why does this happen?

No one should ever have to experience that kind of loss. But fires do happen. And no matter how much pain it leaves in its wake I now know that being a part of an organization that allowed me to help is one of the greatest gifts I could receive.

These incidences occur every day and affect hundreds of people. What these people went through is irrevocable and only now, after seeing what I saw, do I truly understand why it is part of my job as a Red Cross Volunteer to spread hope to those who have lost everything.

I am a proud volunteer at the Red Cross Central Valley Chapter.