Fire Chases Away Christmas Joy

by Anne Florenzano/American Red Cross

A tired Yvonne Johnson sat at a table in her apartment complex community room. “I am still in disbelief,” she said. “You hear of people in the news who have fires like this, but I never thought it would be ME in this situation. It still seems so unreal!” she said.

Red Cross volunteer Sheila Miller (l) helps Yvonne Johnson (r) with emergency disaster relief after an early morning blaze burned her home on December 26, 2012. (Photo credit: Anne Florenzano/American Red Cross)
Red Cross volunteer Sheila Miller (l) helps Yvonne Johnson (r) with emergency disaster relief after an early morning blaze burned her home on December 26, 2012. (Photo credit: Anne Florenzano/American Red Cross)

Yvonne, her teen daughter and nephew had enjoyed Christmas together in their apartment in Plymouth when their building fire alarm went off at about 12:30 a.m. They were still up, and dressed, and they grabbed their new gifts and put on their boots and coats and went outside. A half-hour later they were given the okay to go back into their apartment. At approximately 3:30 a.m. Yvonne was woken out of her sleep by the smell of smoke and her daughter saw sparks and flame out of the balcony window coming down from above. Yvonne and the two teens raced out of the apartment, this time dressed only in pajamas and unable to save anything but a clutch with her phone and keys.

The three of them took refuge in their car to stay warm. Eventually Yvonne was able to send her kids to warmth and sleep with her sister while she made arrangements for help from the Red Cross for temporary lodging, clothes and food. The firemen have told her that her apartment is uninhabitable because of water damage. Fortunately her landlord has some empty units where Yvonne can begin rebuilding her home, but she won’t know until she can get back into her apartment if any of the kids’ Christmas gifts or the furniture she recently inherited from her Mom can be salvaged. Yvonne is a middle school English teacher at the Woodson Institute for Student Excellence, and she said, “I’ve never had any help or assistance before – never in my life – but I need this help today.”

Disasters are hard any time of year, but can be especially hard around the holidays. Since Friday, December 22, the Northern Minnesota Red Cross has helped more than 8 families, including 20 adults and 15 children. Our volunteers respond to more than a disaster a day here in our region.  In addition, more than 100 volunteers from our area have deployed east to help those affected by Superstorm Sandy–several are on their second deployment, missing holidays with their families because they want to help those in need. Everyone can help those affected by local and national disasters: please consider making a year-end gift to the Red Cross at redcross.org.

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