“Jared, do you smell smoke?” Mom asked.
“No,” I replied groggily, still a little weary after just waking up from a nap.
“It’s probably Courtney’s cookies burning in the oven,” yelled somebody from the living room.
My brother Tyler had three friends over working on a psychology project in the dining room. Dad, Kim, Travis, and Devin were watching TV. Courtney and I were in the kitchen. All of us were downstairs on the main floor of our old, two-story farmhouse. Mom continued to ask everyone if they smelled smoke.
“Tyler, go check upstairs, please.”
As Tyler opened the door to the stairwell, smoke began to roll into the downstairs living room.
“Call 911! And everybody out of the house!” exclaimed my dad. I sat and watched as my mom made the phone call. I never really thought a 911 emergency phone call would have to be made from our kitchen phone.
“Jared, grab some shoes and a coat and get out.” It was good advice from my mother. As I did, I thought about getting my money out of the drawer, but I didn’t. The fire can’t be that bad, I thought.
I felt quite calm as I walked out into the chilly December air. I knew everybody was safe, and that was the main thing. Just then, I came out from underneath the porch and looked up to see flames billowing out of my sister’s second-story bedroom window.
My heart began to beat faster. My two little brothers were crying as they escaped to our barn to watch the horrible spectacle. My father stretched a garden hose around the side of the house and Tyler and I joined him in a futile effort to fight the flames from below. The fire was spreading. I heard windows in the old farmhouse shatter from the intense heat. My mom was worried and yelled at us to get away.
“Jared, go down and direct the truck when it comes,” I heard my dad say.
I ran away from the house to the spot in the road where our driveway separates from the main road, a deceptive fork to those who have never traveled it. Standing there alone, I watched bright, orange flames stream from several upstairs windows. The place where I had lived my entire life was being destroyed without mercy. A feeling of helplessness overcame me. I wanted to stop the disaster but knew it was impossible. The flames cut into the dark night. In that instant, the sight was calm, silent, scary, and awesome all at the same time.
I began to hear the whine of sirens approaching as the fire engines made their way through northwest Corvallis, Oregon. It seemed they were extremely slow.
The headlights of an engine came into view down the road. It had taken ten minutes for the trucks to arrive, but it had seemed more like an hour. By now the flames lit up the house, and the engines kept coming. Four trucks were on the scene.
I ran back to the house as the firefighters mapped out the entire house before entering, identifying from my mother the location of pictures and valuables. To our relief, most of these were saved.
The fire was confined to the upper story of the house because we had shut the door to the stairwell. It looked as if the house might not be a total loss. I looked at my dad staring at his burning home. “Well, we always wanted to do some remodeling up there anyway,” he said.
Ward members and other friends began arriving rapidly. I didn’t notice them come, but suddenly the place was filled with people eager to help and give comfort. As the firefighters brought things from the house, everybody helped in transporting them to the barn. Some of the people there I didn’t even recognize. I had never realized the kind of support and friendship our family has. I think sometimes I have taken for granted our many friends. I realized then, and in the ensuing months, that friends are truly a blessing that should be cherished.
It was difficult to sleep that night. My brother and I slept at a friend’s house, and the rest of my family stayed at various ward members’ homes. All I could think about was the fire. I wasn’t heartbroken about all the possessions I might have lost; those were not important. I realized the things that matter most in life are not clothes, stereos, or computers, but friends and family. The materialistic pleasures we have in life are nice, but definitely not important. I felt more sorrow for our dilapidated farmhouse that had weathered the years since 1918.
The relief effort put forth by Church members, the city, and other friends was truly amazing. We were showered with presents, food, and especially love. I almost felt guilty for all the gifts and acts of kindness that we were receiving from so many. All this did not stop after a few weeks or months.
As I look back on the experience today, I regard the fire as a blessing for our family. We ended up tearing our house the rest of the way down, and we have spent more than two years working to build a new one. The project of building a new house has been an opportunity for our family to learn new skills and has taught us to better refine how we deal with each other. Most of all, however, the fire taught us the importance of giving service and loving our neighbors.
Sometimes it seems that life throws us a curve ball. The important thing is how we deal with it. Every experience in life can be used for growth and learning. I thank my Father in Heaven for loving me enough to teach me the things I need to know.