“I’ll never forget that night.” A home fire victim remembers the Red Cross helping in the chaos

It was a warm summer night on June 4, 2017 and Sandra Gary was still awake in her home on West 111th Street in the Morgan Park-Beverly neighborhood. Midnight had just passed, and that’s when Sandra noticed the smell of smoke permeating the air.

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“It was an odd smell, like maybe rubber or a tire burning,” Sandra said.

She looked out her bedroom window multiple times, and that’s when she saw the flames start to come up the side of her home. She says everyone who lived in the complex was able to get out safely, either from smelling the smoke or because of the neighbor who spotted the flames and made sure to wake people up and get them out.

“Just to see our house go up in flames…just devastating. Never thought I’d have to go through anything like this.”

The fire had started in unit A of the complex and made it all the way over to Sandra’s house, unit E, destroying much of the property in the process.

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Sandra says her home was covered in soot and the lingering smell of smoke made it difficult to breathe. She was able to salvage a few things from her home but lost most of her belongings, especially anything in the basement.

“Everything down there was destroyed,” she said. “It was terrible.”

A Red Cross van had pulled up and two volunteers began taking down information of the residents affected by the fire. Eight units were affected and nearly everyone had been displaced.

The neighbors say they bonded that night as they stood outside for hours together, watching flames pour through the roof of their homes until 3 or 4 AM. The Red Cross provided assistance in the form of gift cards to make sure everyone had a place to go that night and was able to get food and clothes.

Sandra went to stay at her son’s in Hyde Park. Within days, she receieved another call from a Red Cross volunteer asking if she needed any new medications since any medications that had been through a fire were no longer safe to take. Sandra hadn’t even thought about that, and hadn’t realized her medications were damaged. The Red Cross helped her expedite new prescriptions at no cost to her.

Sandra says she is so thankful to the Red Cross for “just showing up” and helping that night. The damage was so bad, it took over a year and a half for her home to be livable again. She recently moved back and has since made several donations to the organization as a way of paying it forward.

“For people to just come out like that and help you, and that’s when you really need that. My hat’s off to them,” she said. “If you do this then you must be good.”

Hear more from Sandra in this video.

Does your home need a smoke alarm? The Red Cross will come and install one for free if you sign up online for an appointment as part of our “Sound the Alarm” campaign. Make your appointment here for a free smoke alarm.

Interested in volunteering? Sign up to help do the installing here.

Written by Chicago & Northern Illinois Communications Manager Holly Baker

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