Oak Lawn home fire survivor shares her story

In June of 2019, Barbara Juris was preparing dinner for her husband in their Oak Lawn home. It was a summer evening, and she was planning on making french fries and spare ribs – some of her husband’s favorite things. It was in a crucial few minutes when Barbara left the kitchen that would completely change the course of the evening, and her life.

Barbara stepped outside to tend to the ribs on the grill, when she hears her neighbor yelling. The neighbor had seen what Barbara hadn’t yet- smoke pouring out of her kitchen window. She rushed back into the house to see her kitchen stove on fire and quickly spreading up cabinets and to the floor.

The Oak Lawn Fire Department was called and arrived within minutes- pushing Barbara and her husband Walter out of the house.

Barbara’s friends and neighbors gathered around her outside as she helplessly stood and watched the home she had lived in for 64 years go up in terrible smoke and destroy her kitchen and parts of the roof.

“I was devastated because I had raised 4 children in that home,” Barbara said.

Realizing her home was not going to be suitable to live in for a while, Barbara began feeling an unfamiliar uncertainty of not knowing where she would sleep in the coming days.

“We had no place to go,” she said.

The Oak Lawn Fire Department assured her that she would be OK as Red Cross volunteers also arrived at the fire. The two volunteers, Brian and Donald, talked to Barbara and made sure she and her husband had accommodations and helped them through the next steps to take.

“They were just so supportive and everything, and they told me I’ll get through it and they’ll find a place for me… couldn’t ask for anything kinder,” Barbara said.

At 93-years-old, Barbara says she has been cooking all her life, but this still happened to her. She says she is so grateful to her neighbors, the fire and police departments and the Red Cross for supporting her through the fire.

Her home is now under renovation but she hopes to be back in it by Christmas and have a big party to celebrate.

“I cannot rave enough about the Red Cross. They’ve always been wonderful but they outdo themselves,” Barbara said.

Barbara says she has so much to be grateful for, “but I hope that nobody has to go through that.”

The American Red Cross responds to more than 62,000 disasters a year and most are home fires.

Tips to avoid cooking fires include:

  • Keep young children and pets at least three feet away from the stove.
  • Move items that can burn away from the stove such as dishtowels, bags and boxes.
  • Clean the stove and the area around it before turning on the heat.
  • Don’t leave food on the stove unattended.
  • Turn pot handles to the back of the stove to avoid spills.

IF A COOKING FIRE OCCURS If a pan catches fire, don’t move it. Slide a pan lid or cookie sheet on top of the pan to put out the fire. Turn off the heat. Keep the lid on the pan until it cools. Never try to stop a grease or oil fire with water – it will fuel the fire.

If something catches fire in the oven, keep the door closed. Call 9-1-1 so firefighters can make sure the fire didn’t spread to the walls. If a fire occurs in the microwave, keep the door closed and unplug the microwave if you can. Don’t use it again until a repairman checks it.

If the kitchen catches fire, make sure everyone gets out and call 9-1-1 when outside. Once outside, stay out. Never go back inside a burning building.

The Red Cross has been working to reduce that number through its Home Fire Campaign. Launched in October of 2014, the Red Cross and thousands of campaign partners have helped save numerous lives through the effort, as well as installing more than one million smoke alarms in homes all across the country. The Red Cross is asking people to do two things – create and practice their home fire escape plan and check their smoke alarms.

For more information on home fire safety, click or tap here.

Written and produced by Holly Baker, Regional Communications Manager

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