Firefighters rescue family Christmas
Working as a firefighting dispatcher, Dresslerville resident Norma Smokey never imagined a fire with would take her own home.
On Wednesday, Smokey and members of her family made homeless in the Nov. 25 blaze were taken shopping by firefighters at the Gardnerville Walmart.
Smokey said the loss of her house and its contents ruined Thanksgiving, and was well on the way to destroying Christmas.
That is until the East Fork Fire District and Sierra Front Interagency Dispatch in Minden came together to raise funds to take the family on a shopping trip for essentials and Christmas presents.
“I’m shaking,” Smokey said as she stood out front of Walmart with her shopping team. “I knew they’d do something. I didn’t expect all this. They are such wonderful people. I’m lucky to have three families; my immediate family, my extended family and my fire family.”
For a family that went from having a house to being homeless in less than an hour, the goal of the East Fork Fire District, Minden Dispatch Center, the U.S Forest Service and the many other groups is to help the family return to a sense of reality. Smokey has worked for Minden dispatch during wildland fires.
“She’s a phenomenal woman who deserves a little help,” East Fork Fire Battalion Chief Scott Fraser said. “She may not be pulling a hose, but she is a tremendous help because she’s the one that gets us there.”
Smokey said she was shopping on Nov. 25 for the last few things needed to complete the family’s Thanksgiving dinner.
It was Coleen, Smokey’s daughter, who discovered the fire in her bedroom around midnight Nov. 25 when she woke up to the smell of smoke.
“She had just put her youngest (Marcus, 8) to sleep in his room,” Smokey said. “His bedroom is closest to mine way in the back of the house. The little girl (Vanessa, 11) was in the front room.”
Smokey said Coleen got up and ran to the kitchen to try to get some water to put it out. She didn’t notice that (Marcus) had gotten up with her. By the time she got back, the fire had spread.
An electrical plugin shorted out causing a spark to jump and ignite.
Coleen was left to get three children out of the house on her own.
“She was able to get the two little ones out,” Smokey said. “She had to go completely around the house and get Alex out the window.”
When Smokey arrived around 1 a.m. her house was almost gone.
“Everything was gone,” she said. “We’ve been able to save a few things, but the smell is so bad. The only thing I really had left was a metal file cabinet with pictures in the bottom drawer. And my birth certificate. The plastic around it was melted, but it wasn’t damaged.”
Smokey called the house home for more than 30 years and Coleen had grown up there.
“My entire life was in that house,” Smokey said. “We moved in brand new. Coleen was just a little girl. I’ve purchased so many things to concentrate on my home and my basket weaving. It’s all gone. To purchase so much and to lose it all. It’s devastating.”
Smokey said she loved her grandkids and was saddened at how the fire had affected them.
“They’ve lost so much,” Smokey said. “Their father was deported a month before the fire. They have nothing. I think it’s been rough on them. They are trying to be real close to you.”
With one holiday this year already ruined by the loss of their home, Smokey said Christmas could have been the same way, had her fire family not stepped forward.
“This time of year is just a real hard time of year,” she said. “They (the boys) are so overjoyed with excitement. Christmas just means a lot to kids.”
It was the goal of more than five different fire departments to give the entire family a Christmas they wouldn’t otherwise have.
The family was greeted by five fire trucks, flashing lights and more than 10 people at the Gardnerville Walmart.
“This will hopefully bring them a little Christmas celebration they may not otherwise have,” Sierra Front Dispatch Center Manager Mindy Stevenson said. “She’s (Smokey) been a longtime employee and we consider her family. We knew she’d need help.”
The family has been staying at a local hotel with the few things that they have been able to purchase or have been donated since the fire.
“We want to give them some sort of normal Christmas,” Fraser said. “We didn’t want them to have to spend the little bit of money they have on toys and Christmas presents.”
Donations have been pouring in since the incident, Fraser said.
Churches, service groups and even anonymous donors have provided anything from furniture to toiletries to clothes.
“I’ve lived in this community for 25 years and it’s just amazing how when somebody needs help, people come from everywhere to help,” Fraser said. “I can’t tell you how many phone calls I’ve fielded in the last week from people wanting to help. I had an anonymous donation that didn’t want the fanfare of helping; they just wanted to help. It’s pretty cool.”
“Hopefully, this can help them with the recovery and healing process,” Stevenson said. “They have a long road ahead of them to recover.”
Some of the funds were set aside so that the family can furnish their new homes.
Smokey said that her daughter and her are looking at separate homes.
“(Coleen) is looking at a house in the Ranchos area,” Smokey said. “It’s a nice little place that I think she will like. It’s time we went our separate ways.”
Smokey met with the housing authority in Dresslerville on Thursday to talk about available housing in the area.
She is currently looking for loans to purchase a new home.
“Dresslerville is my home. I can’t leave there. My heart belongs there,” Smokey said.
For the family of five, Christmas may not be in their own home, but it will include some of the things that make it; presents, wrapping paper and bows thanks to what Smokey called her fire family.
“That’s what firefighters do” Fraser said. “They take care of each other.”