Sunday, November 11, 2007

Where There's Smoke...

I sat in front of my computer last night, wanting to share about my experiences of the day, but having no idea where to start. So I didn't.

This morning I woke up at 5:02. The quiet and darkness were as comforting as the blanket that hugged my shoulders. A stark contrast to 24 hours earlier, when the waning hours of night were broken by shouts, flames, and cold.

John and I had gone to eastern Oregon for the weekend. We'd spent Friday night with an older couple in Condon. I got to visit my heart out while John tuned pianos at their church and the Elks lodge. We left Friday morning and headed to Pendleton. John tuned four pianos there while I spent time in the local Christian bookstore, library, and went to lunch with a friend. My daughter-in-law, Holly, works at Walmart, so I spent some time (and money) there while waiting for her to get off work at 3:30. I rode out to Pilot Rock with her and was greeted with delicious hugs by our four grandkids. (These are the ones we took to Disneyland in August.) John arrived in time for dinner and we had a great time as a family that evening. Cassie is turning 13 next Sunday, and I had bought 7 books for her at the Oregon Christian Writer's Conference last summer, and had them autographed. She is a voracious reader and writer and I was sure she'd be thrilled with autographed books. We celebrated her birthday that night and she was overjoyed with her gift. I done good!

Things quieted down in the house around 10:30. John and I got to sleep in 4-year-old Johnathan's room. That handsome little guy slept on the top bunk, John and I on the bottom. We put our ear plugs in and closed the bedroom door so the dogs wouldn't join us during the night. At 5 yesterday morning, I woke up and turned over in bed and one of my ear plugs fell out. I tucked it under my pillow and heard a man's voice yell, "If they're going, they need to go now!" Honestly, my very first thought was, "How rude! It's early Sunday morning. No one needs to go anywhere!" I had a second to wonder whose voice it was, as I knew it wasn't my son Mark's. They had another guest (also named Mark) spending the night, and he had bedded down on the couch in the living room. It didn't sound like his voice, either.

Our bedroom door burst open and Holly flipped the light switch. She swooped sleeping Johnathan off his bunk as she yelled, "Mom, Dad, get up! The church is on fire!" (Their house is next-door to a 95-year-old Presbyterian church.) I reached beside the bed for my glasses, slid my slippers on, and tore a blanket from the bed to wrap around me. John was scrambling beside me. As I left the room and headed for the front door I could feel intense heat on my face. A neighbor woman had Kaylee bundled in a blanket and was tearing through the living room. I follwed them out. Holly was right in front of me (I think--things are kind of a blur!) and she yelled that the two older kids, Cassie and Brenna, were already out. We all ran across the street, except for Mark, who was in his backyard, spraying the church-side of the house with the garden hose, trying to keep the fire from spreading to the house. But the heat was so intense, the water evaporated before it could do any good. Once her kids were safe Holly went to move her van from in front of the house. The plastic handle was already bubbling from the heat, and she singed her hand a bit, but was able to move the car to safety. Mark got his truck moved, a neighbor moved Mark's new motorcycle, and John had "happened" to pick up a pair of pants as he ran from the house, and his car keys were in the pocket, so he could move our car, too.

I cannot yet describe the sight that met my eyes as I looked across the street from my safe vantage point. The three-storied church was ablaze, flames leaping in the air. The sounds of wood crackling and windows exploding filled the air. I couldn't even pray. Couldn't form a coherent thought beyond, "Oh, Lord. Oh, Lord." The kids had been taken to a neighbor's house across the street and I knew they were all safe. I stood in the street with my arms around Holly. She was moaning and then exclaimed, "My house in on fire!" The heat from the conflagaration had started a fire in their attic. We'd been out of the house for ten minutes, if that.

The Pilot Rock volunteer fire department showed up with two pumpers, and finally a tower truck from Pendleton. For hours, literally hours, we stood and watched both structures burn. Soon into the process Holly asked a friend to take Cassie and the twins across town to a friend's, so they wouldn't be watching their house burn. Neighbors brought out blankets and coffee, gave hugs and condolences, and the classic offer of "If you need anything, let me know. We'll help however we can." Pilot Rock is a very small town and that community knows how to pull together. Not only had they lost their historic church, but also the house of their senior police officer. The house burned for hours. For some reason, the fire fighters were unable to get the blaze subdued.

But God is good. And may I say again, GOD IS GOOD! There were nine people sleeping in that house, on two levels. All of us got out safely, including three dogs. A neighbor across the street had been awakened by his dogs barking. He and his wife saw the engulfed church and ran over and saved our lives by pounding on the door and yelling. If that other Mark hadn't been sleeping on the couch in the living room and heard the pounding, it would have taken more time and effort to alert us to the danger, and who knows what might have happened. I think we were all out of the house within a minute's time.

We all scooted out with only the clothes on our back. John's and my carry-on bags that we travel with were in our room, along with our credit cards, my purse, medications, etc. We knew it would be a real bother to have to replace those things, but nothing compared to what Mark and Holly were facing. Four hours into the fire, Mark and Holly were allowed to make a trip into the section of the house that wasn't currently burning, and bring out a few things. I looked up to see Mark carrying our bags to us. I couldn't believe it, but my purse survived, as did all the contents of my wallet. Even my cell phone made it through and still works! Holly brought out her precious wedding gown that her mother had made for her years ago. It wasn't damaged. And Mark rescued the flag that had covered his grandfather's coffin years ago. Very fitting, as yesterday was Veteran's Day.

A friend drove Holly and me over to where the kids were. The twins ran to us, wanting held and hugged. Johnathan said, "Grandma, my house got break-ed." Kaylee told me her house was "fired." As I loved on those two little ones, that's when the tears welled. What if we had lost one of them? What if something had happened to the older girls? As the grandmother, I found myself dealing with the what-ifs. Poor Mark and Holly have to deal not only with the what-ifs, but also the what-is. The work ahead of them is staggering. Yes, the house was fully insured, but that doesn't make replacing everything an easy job. It's all going to take time. The kids have lost their house and their church, all at the same time. Life will be very different.

John and I left around noon, as there was nothing more we could do. I was so thankful we'd been there and able to be a support for our kids. John had only bedroom slippers to drive in.(Well, and his clothes!) A neighbor girl gave me a pair of socks and shoes, and over my pajama bottoms I wore a pair of pants Mark had found in his truck. I had sleep-top on, but no bra. (I finally joined the Women's Liberation Movement of the '70s and burned it! I did have a light-weight jacket that had been in our car overnight, and could wear that when needed so I didn't look indecent.) I had my glasses on, no makeup, and hadn't combed my hair since Saturday morning.) And that's what we looked like as we traveled home. As we stopped at McDonald's for something to eat. As we went into Fred Meyers to buy a new pillow for John. And you know what? I really didn't care. We had survived a near-tragedy. We might not have looked pretty or smelled very good, but our whole family was alive. Nothing else mattered.

Other people were taking pictures, and when those are sent to me I'll definitely post them. I think this particular blog is long enough. I don't even know if many people will read it, but I needed the cathartic release of getting some of my thoughts down on paper, so to speak. I'm so thankful for the prayers of those of you who knew what was going on. For those of you who hear about it this way, please pray for the Mark Ashcraft family as they go through this difficult time. I'm sure I'll need to write more about the experience, but this it for now. Go love on your family!


Anonymous said...

My DEAR Sister,
Not only getting the phone call yesterday morning when this was happening but today reading your blog makes me Give Thanks to our Great and Almighty God for you, John, Mark, Holly, Brenna, Cassie, Johnathan,and Kalee. I can't tell you how much you all mean to me. I am grateful to God that all of you are physically well. I know that God has his arms wrapped snuggly around you all and will carry everyone through this devastating time. Mark and Holly will see from their community how much they are loved and cared for as I know they will help them.
I know when we all are together on this Thanksgiving Day how much more meaningful that day will be.
I love you beyond words.

Robin Johns Grant said...

Sherrie, what a horrendous experience! But as you say, how amazing God is that everything just "happened" the way it did so you and your family could all be safe. I'm sure they lost a lot of sentimental things. That's the prospect that always terrifies me about a fire. So I know it's difficult. But again, I'm so happy you didn't lose what was really important.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what to say, and I can't see to type anyway through all the wawa in my eyes, so I'll just sit here and praise our Father, and love you love you love you from afar.

: )

Anonymous said...

Glad you're ok, Sherrie! Glad you're ALL ok!!
I read every word.
Love, Debbie M.

Jen Berry said...

Sitting at my desk, at work, was probably not the best place to have read this blog. With the very first sentences I felt chills cover my entire body, and then the tears, oh, the tears. I'm so thankful that your family made it out safe, I feel for the children.

Mt thoughts and prayers are with you and your family during this time.

Anonymous said...

WOW, God is good. I am so thankful you and your family escaped this inferno.

God is good and will see this church and family through the difficult time with unexplanable joy!!! May they all keep their eyes on Him.

Tammy Bowers said...

Very moving post, Sherrie. I stayed pretty dry and thanksful until the part about the wedding gown and flag. God is great, even with the tiny details! I will pray for your son and his family!

Ernie W. said...

I can only echo your words that God is good. What an awesome thing He's done in protecting the lives of you, John and your family.

Trixie Lee said...

From Minnesota, we give thanks to God for bringing you and your family through the fire.
My sister Lois Haney is enroute to Bend, Ore. after spending 8 weeks in San Antonio with daughter Jill and her family. I will besure to let her know the situation with the Ashberrys.
Sharon L. Bloch
Savage, Minnesota

Amy Robinson said...

Dear Sherrie,
We are so thankful the God helped you and your family to safety that night. I will pass on the word to everyone in Dayton and to our families. We will be praying for your son and his family and for the decisions and paperwork that they are going to be going through. Having experienced a house fire in 2000 we understand the overwhelming feeling of loss, but also of complete gratitude toward God. We miss you guys.
Shane, Amy and Elijah Robinson

Amy Robinson said...

Dear Sherrie,
We are so thankful the God helped you and your family to safety that night. I will pass on the word to everyone in Dayton and to our families. We will be praying for your son and his family and for the decisions and paperwork that they are going to be going through. Having experienced a house fire in 2000 we understand the overwhelming feeling of loss, but also of complete gratitude toward God. We miss you guys.
Shane, Amy and Elijah Robinson

Bonnie Leon said...


So thankful you're safe. And it's true, these kinds of experiences do bring our priorities into perspective.

God is good.