Originally appeared on redcross.org.
The Smith family’s residence, located on the second floor of an apartment complex in Lawrenceville, felt like a warm, loving Georgia home. Holiday stockings had already been hung and Karen, her husband Michael, her 11-year-old son Michael Jr., and her mother-in-law, Laverne had plans to pick out the family Christmas tree later that day. Aside from the bare walls and shiny new living room furniture, you would never suspect the home was a temporary safe-haven—one that became necessary only after an electrical fire sent their house up in flames.
On September 8, 2018, Karen and her children were at home in the living room when, out of nowhere, Karen’s step-daughter came running out of her bedroom yelling, “The house is on fire!” Karen ran into her step-daughter’s bedroom and saw that the bed was on fire. She tried to put the fire out with water and a fire extinguisher, but neither worked. That’s when Karen told her son to call 911; and the 911 operator instructed the family to get out of the burning home.
“I was very devastated. I lived in that home for about 18 years and it was heart-wrenching to see my home go up in flames. All the smoke and soot and water from the fire department was very devastating to watch,” Karen said on Friday November 30, when we visited her previous and current residences.
That’s when the Red Cross came.
“They helped us and made me realized there was hope at the end of the rope. They made us realize that everything was going to be ok.”
Volunteers from the Red Cross of Georgia helped Karen and her family in the days immediately following the fire, with emergency essentials like lodging and clothes. Case worker volunteer Valencia Chavous followed up with the family during the next few weeks, to connect them with community resources and help them get back on their feet.
“Valencia was great. She spoke with me, she spoke with my mother-in-law. She would call me once a week and just encourage me—and make feel like everything was going to be all right.”
Karen gave us two thank you cards to bring back to Valencia, one from herself, her husband and her son and another from her mother-in-law.
Karen and her family had smoke alarms in their home, and they did go off to alert the family about the fire. The Red Cross of Georgia has been working to reduce deaths and injuries related to home fires since 2014, by installing free smoke alarms in homes throughout the state. To date, 10 lives in Georgia have been saved because of these efforts.
“Now, looking back, I am very glad that we were able to act quickly and get out safely, and right now we are doing ok, as you can see. Thanks to the Red Cross for helping us.”
Karen and her husband are working with their insurance company to rebuild their home. They plan to move back in within the next six months.