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Fire story

February 22, 2013

Covering a house fire or a car crash or any other “minor tragedy” is a key part of being a journalist — we’ve all been there and we’ll all be there again sooner than we’d like.

As a writer, it always seems wrong when these events, which fundamentally alter a person’s life, earn a six-inch column on the inside of the B section, knowing full well that very few people might care about that one specific incident but if it happened to us it’s pretty much all we would care about. Anyways, this little story’s about one of those, a trailer fire that took place in New Hanover County shortly after New Year’s.

I headed to the scene shortly after hearing scanner chatter pick up and ended up on the other side of the closed-off street from the other media. Walking down the road with a police escort, I took note of a group of five or six people huddled together, one or two of whom were sobbing. After a fire department rep talked with us, giving us all of the necessary details — one man was at home when the fire started and was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, the fire started at about 4:20 p.m., the family’s pet rabbit survived the flames, the Red Cross would help the family find lodging because its house was uninhabitable —  I had to walk back across the scene to get back to my car and file my story.

I stopped at the small group of people and asked one woman if she was the victim, to which she said “No, my daughter is.” I asked the woman if her daughter would be willing to talk to me quickly so I could just get a better understanding of what happened, and she said that would be totally fine.

During my conversation with the daughter, it quickly became clear that she didn’t care about the material possessions in her house — including a washing machine and a big-screen TV — and was instead way more concerned about a collage of pictures of her now-grown children that was hanging on one of the walls.

At some point, maybe when the TV came up, the mother looked at me and goes, “Maybe he can help you get it out?” The daughter, who was understandably distraught, stopped sobbing for about 10 seconds and just looked at her mother wide-eyed and semi-slack jawed, quickly up-and-downed me in my slacks and button-down shirt, and said, “No, he’s dressed up all nice. He’s not gonna get all dirty getting that out!”

It was one of those small moments, in the whirlwind of a life disrupted, standing 25 feet away from the still-smoldering ruins of this woman’s home and able to smell the burnt plastic, where I couldn’t do anything but let loose a small laugh and be amazed at the strength and kindness of some people.

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