Friends rally around fire victims

Spanish Fork families ponder their next steps

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 13 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Sherry Wallace (left) gives Stefani Holdaway (center) and Shauna Terry a hug. Wallace brought bags of supplies to Holdaway and Terry Monday morning a day after their home burned. The Holdaway's and Terry's are Spanish Fork next door neighbors that suffered from a house fire that started in the Holdaway's carport and burned both their homes early Sunday Morning.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

SPANISH FORK — It sounded like an earthquake, the noise wrapping around Shauna Terry's house and waking her up at 3 a.m. Sunday.

Looking out the nearest window, she saw an orange glow then ran to another window for a better look.

"It was coming out of (my neighbor's) carport," she said. "I figured it was the trailer. I didn't think it was my house on fire."

Terry quickly called neighbor Stefani Holdaway on one phone and 911 on another.

Your house is on fire, Terry told Holdaway. Get out.

And the family of six did. Minus their winter coats and shoes, which were melting by the carport door.

"I can't even describe the smell," Holdaway said. "It never gets out of your head."

Once the families were safely out with their children — the Holdaways and Terry families each have four children under 10 — they watched in horror as firefighters from Spanish Fork, Payson and Mapleton battled flames devouring the sides of their Spanish Fork homes.

The fire charred the Holdaways' Honda Odyssey, which was nearest the house. Beside it are the remains of a trailer, unrecognizable except for its warped hitch and propane tanks, which had already exploded.

The family's Chevy Suburban was farther away in the driveway, but the tires and tail lights melted into puddles of plastic and the only things left inside were the metal frames and springs of the seats.

Across and above the carport, Terry peered into the remains of her attic, where she had just packed away all of her Christmas decorations.

And even though her bedroom ceiling is on her bed, the Terrys' main concern is water and smoke damage, not fire damage.

Through the Holdaways' charred and shattered front room window, the only picture left visible is a framed picture of Jesus Christ. Somehow it survived on the wall when everything else went up in flames, Holdaway said. A reminder that someone is watching out for them, she said.

Actually, a lot of people are watching out for them. Within an hour after the fire started, the families were warm in neighbors' homes with food, clothes, games and coloring books for the kids and offers of more food and clothes pouring in.

The neighborhood and the LDS ward even cooked breakfast for the families later that morning.

"It's amazing," Holdaway said. "I have more clothes, so many clothes. It's been amazing support."

The families have been staying with relatives nearby and are looking into rental options until they can figure out what to do with their charred homes.

"My son didn't know why it happened," Terry said. "I told him it will make us better people. (The kids) feel kind of lost. Home is your center. It's kind of weird not to come home."

Spanish Fork Fire Chief Brent Jarvis said they believe the fire initially started with ashes that were thrown away in a plastic garbage can in the Holdaways' carport. Even though the ashes were placed there Saturday morning, the ashes must have still had enough heat to ignite, Jarvis said.

The chief encourages those with fireplaces to leave ashes out in a metal container for several days while they cool, or douse them with water then let them cool before throwing them away.

He also reminded residents to keep nearby fire hydrants cleared of snow, so crews can find them quickly.

Insurance adjusters and clean-up specialists were on scene Monday, looking around and through the damaged homes. There's no estimate yet, but both families consider the homes total losses.

But no matter the cost, neither family wants to move.

"We love our neighbors, we love our ward," Terry said. "We don't want to leave."

And the neighborhood doesn't want them to go. Friends kept driving by the house Monday or walking over to ask if they could provide meals or loan a spare bedroom.

"We adore them," neighbor Char Blacker said of the families. "(This neighborhood) is a really tight-knit group. (The fire) has really affected everyone."

But despite the melted cars, charred homes and water-logged possessions, the families are optimistic.

"We're safe," Holdaway said. "Houses can be repaired, things that are lost can be fixed, but we're safe. That's all we care about."

After surviving a house fire during the winter, the Terry and Holdaway families have a bit of advice:

• Keep sturdy shoes, coats and warm clothes by each child's bed.

• Make copies of important papers to keep in a bank deposit box.

• Have a family meeting place farther away than the edge of the driveway.

• Don't rely solely on vehicle storage for an emergency — the cars could burn, too.

• Keep purses and wallets within close reach at night.

• Get fire insurance for the home.

• Have a fire escape plan that children know and have practiced.

How to help:

Donations can be made through any branch of Zions Bank to the Jared Terry Family Fund and the Holdaway Family Fund.


E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com

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