Yesterday was not the day that I planned on having. My day off. 9:30am, and I'm on my way to work-out, get a massage, and run a few errands. As I am driving up Academy Blvd, I notice tons of billowing smoke. My first thought: Barnes & Noble is on fire. Surely it can't be, Dave and I were just joking about that yesterday. Then I get to the top of the hill and slowly realize that it is not B&N, but an apartment building--the apartment building that is literally in the backyard of my church, Springs of Life.
Fire trucks and fire hoses were everywhere. Four towers cascaded water onto the burning building. I made a quick left and drove through side streets trying to get as close to the church and the burning building as possible. I wanted to know if the church was on fire, too. I wanted to know if I could do anything to help. I parked my car, asked the police at the barricade if the church was okay, learned that it was, and asked if I could walk in. I could.
There was water and people everywhere. It was cold, but not as cold as the past several days had been. We hit somewhere in the 20s yesterday. When I reached the building, I found displaced residents everywhere. The Red Cross had made camp in the basement, trying to make lists of residents and establish who was safe and who was not. The fire and police units had set up rehab in the sanctuary. And the church staff plus a few members were moving between the residents, the Red Cross, the fire and police crews, the media, and a host of other organizations.
I quickly learned what happened. The blaze began around midnight Tuesday morning. The folks who live in the ministry house awoke to screaming. Brett, James, Brian, and Alex came out to find out what was happening. They saw the building aflame. People jumping from windows, children being thrown to neighbors who had already made it out. One entire wing of the building was already engulfed in flame. The guys opened up the church building for people to get warm--many in pajamas and bare feet in negative degree temperatures. The fire units, Red Cross, and police would soon arrive, but as of 9:30am this morning, Wednesday, the fire is still burning.
It was an old building, built mostly out of wood, the outside finished in brick. When the roof collapsed, it basically turned the whole place into an oven, creating pockets of fire that the water could not get to. One fireman, who I had the opportunity to drive back to his fire station, told me it was the worst fire that he had seen in 21 years of fighting fires.
I stayed the rest of the day, answering phones, cleaning up messes here and there, directing people to where they needed to be, getting coffee for the fire and police units from Starbucks, trying to help field information from all of the different organizations, talking to firemen, police, Red Cross, and residents. I got to know the manager at Applebee's, who brought tons of food for the firemen, police, volunteers, and residents at least six times throughout the day. Chipotle, Red Robin, Souper Salad, Panera, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and a myriad of others also brought food at various points. Walmart brought blankets, socks, shoes, clothing, furniture, diapers, formula, etc. And so many people called all day long wanting to give. Eventually we had to stop excepting donations and started asking people to give monetary donations to the Red Cross. Apartment complexes and tons of local residents called to offer people places to stay. It was simply amazing.
By the end of the day I was very tired, though not nearly as tired as many around me. So after one last run to Starbucks for more coffee, I headed home to my bed--a place I was incredibly grateful that I could go. So one last cheer for the heroes of the day, many of whom will continue to fight the fight again today: the firefighters, the police, the Red Cross volunteers, the Salvation Army volunteers, the Staff and church members at Springs of Life, many restaurants and Good Samaritans, several local pastors who stayed the day to help, the Humane Society, and a host of other aid organizations. Thanks to all of you!