A Calhoun family lost their home and belongings in a devastating fire just days before Christmas, and nearby residents say they’re doing their part to help their neighbors recover.
The McLean County Central District Fire Department responded to a house fire call shortly before 7 p.m. Dec. 21. When crews got there, the upper structure of a home at the intersection of Branch and Fifth Streets was engulfed in flames.
District Fire Chief Jimmy VanCleve said several volunteer fire departments worked well into the night to minimize the impact of the blaze, but by early Tuesday morning, the home was a total loss.
“We never gained control of the fire, because it had consumed the structure,” VanCleve said that morning. “When the flames have breached the roof like that, (fighting the fire) gets a lot more complicated.”
VanCleve said firefighters first ensured that the two brothers and family who were living in the duplex were safely away from the fire before attempting douse the flames in the attic, but the approach was difficult because of concerns that the home would collapse. At one point in the night, he said, a cable antenna on the roof fell onto nearby power lines on Branch Street, limiting firefighters to the opposite side of the structure until power could be shut off to that part of the block.
Crews later determined the cause of the fire was old, faulty electrical wiring in the attic. VanCleve said fighting fires that originate in the attic are extremely difficult to put out because they are hard to reach.
Wayne Shelton, one of the two brothers living in the duplex, said most of the family was sitting at home watching television when his brother ran inside.
“He came in and told us to get out -- that we had smoke coming out of the cable vents in the attic,” Shelton said. “I got everyone in a car and away from the fire to a safe place and the rest of us looked to see if there was something we could do to put it out after we called 911. In a matter of minutes, though, it was just up in flames.”
Shelton said the experience was traumatic for him, his girlfriend, Haley Woosley, and their 4-week-old son.
“There are a lot of questions when this happens about what you’re going to do,” Shelton said. “We have a brand new baby and we have to decide how we’re going to keep him safe and warm and dry and what we’re going to do about food and clothes.
“It’s discouraging and disappointing,” he said. “It’s really hard to swallow.”
For now, Shelton said, they are staying with family in Calhoun.
By late last week, neighbors had begun collecting food, clothing and hygiene products for the family.
Leisha Garret is one of those neighbors. She said her husband watched the home across the street from theirs burn down and knew that they had to do something to help.
Garret said she went to the store that night and purchased items she knew the family would need immediately and posted statuses on Facebook to encourage the community to help support their neighbors in need.
Shelton said it was awesome to see so many people rally to help them.