9 Real Ways You Can Help After a House Fire
“Did you ever think your house would burn down?” Eden, my then 7-year-old daughter asked me every couple days, for months, after an arsonist randomly set our house on fire.
“No,” I would answer each and every time.
“I just never thought my house would ever burn down,” she would say, shaking her head. Neither did I and, despite the fact we just marked the second anniversary, I still can’t quite believe it did. There are many others who know this feeling exactly.
Ours was set in the wee hours, and we were all home and in bed. My husband and I gathered our children and the dog and fled with the clothes on our backs. I stopped only to grab my laptop, which was at hand, and ran barefoot into the darkness.
“We’ve been through worse.” I said repeatedly in the early days, and we had, but I didn’t understand trauma, and I didn’t know that the fire was only the beginning.
And yet, in the early days, the horror of fire was mingled with and almost covered by the extraordinary outpouring of support, the beautiful and staggering generosity of our community.
Very early, I called one of our pastors, who announced the fire in church. A friend was given checks and cash for us, there on the spot. Friends from school gathered the next day to strategize our immediate, midterm and long-term needs. Our home was still smoking when a local business was established as a drop-off spot for donations.
Paul’s coworkers helped set up an account at our credit union and were gathering donations the next day. Many continued to look out for us over the long year of rebuilding.
Neighbors, some we barely knew, stopped and handed us cash or offered furniture, clothes, even a place to stay.
Friends and family at a distance called, sent care packages and wrote wonderful, loving cards and emails.
Here’s What Helped, and What You Can Do
Perhaps you have friends who lost their home in California or one of the other areas affected by wildfires. If so, you may be longing to do something, and I would love to offer a few suggestions.
Listen. Everyone is going to have a unique response to this terrible event. After our fire it seemed I was constantly out of step with the prescribed narrative. When people thought I should despair, I was hopeful. When others assumed things were looking up, I was tanking. Your friend, who (if in Colorado Springs) is surrounded by so many others going through this same tragedy, will need someone to simply listen to how it is for her or him.
Send a check. This is one of the most helpful things you can do. Your friends are going to be spending money every which way, and insurance can take a while to process, even if everything goes smoothly.
Give clothes or home items. Be really thoughtful here. If they were insured, your friends will be provided with the household basics and might not be ready to sort through a lot of stuff.
Make a meal or bring groceries. Your friends are probably exhausted and struggling on many levels. Even if they are staying with people temporarily, this could help their hosts.
Focus on the children. If kids are involved, it’s complicated. Losing everything is especially devastating for them; their belongings mean so much. If you can, figure out a game or toy a child is missing particularly and get that to him or her right away. You will have done a great thing for the entire family.
Consider taking the long view. The process after a fire is long. You may want to check in throughout the rebuild and do any of the above a few months down the road when they may need it most.
Don’t know anyone personally, but want to help? Wildfires are currently devastating homes and neighborhoods in Northern California. Here is a list of volunteer and donation opportunities to help those affected by the California fires.
Community members seeking to volunteer may contact the Sonoma County Emergency Operations Center Shelter division at (707) 573-3399 to find out how they can be of assistance.
The American Red Cross Disaster Relief helps people in crisis get through the first 48 hours after a disaster with money for food, shelter and clothes. Find out more at redcross.org or 1-800-RED-CROSS. You can text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
An argument could be made I did.
But when I think about the goodness of our community, the astonishing kindness and overflowing generosity that surrounded and buoyed us, I know I didn’t and I never will.