Shaquan, 27, is sitting in the back seat of the white Red Cross van, while my Disaster Action Team partner Jim sits in the driver’s seat. I’m on the passenger’s side. We’re listening as he recounts the events of a few hours earlier, when a fire caused major damage to his home.
“It was like consistent thunder,” Shaquan said. “Thunder usually has a pulse; it’ll go and stop, but this was like a consistent thunder.”
It’s only early October, but outside it’s already cold, just past midnight and pouring rain. It’s warm inside the van.
A few hours earlier Shaquan and his three children were in their home when a fire started in the vacant house next door. Shortly after he heard what sounded like thunder, Shaquan heard his neighbor knocking on the door.
“She said, ‘Get out. Grab your kids, and get out now.’”
Shaquan turned immediately to grab his three kids, and he saw a wall of flames shoot up where he had stood not seconds earlier. He and his children: Aniya, age 5; Jasmine, age 4; and Jeremiah, age 3 all got out safely.
Jasmine has severe asthma and relies on a nebulizer to keep her breathing normal. Her father says that she also receives regular oxygen treatments at certain times throughout the day. Fortunately, the children had been made ready for bed right before the fire started, so Jasmine had just finished her nightly treatment.
“I’m grateful that she got it done before she was about to go to bed, or else we would be at the hospital right now,” Shaquan said.
By the time Jim and I completed the casework for the family, all three children were asleep at grandma’s house across town. Halfway through our interview the children’s mother and Shaquan’s fiancé, Treasha, joined us. She had just finished putting the children to bed. She was at work when the fire occurred.
The Red Cross provided a few nights’ stay at a nearby hotel; money for food, clothes and shoes; three stuffed Mickey Mouses for the kids and two comfort kits filled with toiletries and other essential items for the adults.
The family plans to move into Shaquan’s mother’s house until they can figure out their next step. Although the front of the house doesn’t look that bad from the sidewalk, once you step inside you can see the ceilings are completely burnt out, even after firefighters removed the dry wall.
However, the family seems confident that they will figure something out. “To just sit there and watch our house burn, it was ridiculous,” Shaquan said. “But it’s people like you who are helping. You being out here tonight and really caring; you’re who’s really helping us. Thank you.”