Friends through the fire
EAGLE COUNTY ” It took a mere 35 minutes on June 17 for a fire to consume the home that Dan and Dawn Horner had lived in for the last seven-and-a-half years. Fire investigators have identified a short in the electrical wiring to the doorbell as the source of the blaze.
All that was left of the mobile home, located in a pleasant trailer park at the confluence of Brush Creek and the Eagle River, were chunks of charred walls, a gun safe, a wood-burning stove, a few odds and ends … and a lot of ashes.
What the couple lost was their home, which was completely paid for. Lost also were the results of months of blood, sweat and tears the couple put into the remodeling of their home. The Horners lost their antique furniture, their clothing, a pet cat, and all of their earthly possessions. They had no house insurance, and aren’t sure if they will be able to stay in the community.
What the Horners found, in the aftermath of the fire, was just how many good friends they have in this small-town community.
Health regulations require that burned-out structures be quickly removed. The Horners and their friends started doing that by hand. Neighbors Pete and Julie Peters, who opened up their house to the Horners on the day of the fire, were equally quick to volunteer for the clean-up task. Good friend Rick Ping showed up to help with the grunt work, as did Louise Patterson and Joette Pipps.
Help has come from throughout the community. The owners of Calco Concrete Pumping, where Patterson works, donated $300 in cash to the Horners immediately after the fire. Friend Rochelle Wagner and her friend, Evette, passed the hat at last week’s ShowDownTown concert in Eagle. The sympathetic strangers in the crowd donated $250 in less than an hour.
Eagle County Red Cross responded shortly after the fire with a box full of the staples (shampoo, towels, razors, and so on) necessary for everyday living. The owners of the mobile home park, Rick and Marcia Riggan, waived the lot rent for July.
Pitkin Ironworks, the Glenwood Springs-based company where Dan works as an ornamental welder, donated $2,000 to the Horners. Half of that money came from employees; the other half was matched by the company.
“Dan is the type of guy who would never ask anybody for anything. It was really moving to be able to do that for him,” says office manager Patty Krueger. “It felt really, really good.”
One evening last week, Pipps bumped into her boss, Ed Woodland of NexGen Construction, at the local ice cream parlor. She told him about the cleanup effort. Woodland and his brother and business partner, Derek, quickly offered construction dumpsters, the use of a front-end loader, and the hands-on knowledge of a company supervisor, Dow Oaks, to assist with the demolition.
Ed Woodland, who also serves on the Eagle Town Board, credits Pipps for starting the ball rolling.
“It’s just the nature of people in this valley. When somebody needs some kind of help, people will step up to the plate,” says Woodland. “If my house ever burns down, I sure hope somebody helps me clean up.” Eagle County Commissioner Tom Stone arranged for the Horners’ landfill fees to be waived.
Woodland says that lending the machines and the dumpsters was easy. The real credit should go to those who did the physical work, he notes.
On a hot Saturday in July, when most people head to the high country for some rest and relaxation, a small cadre of volunteers turned out to help the Horners complete the demolition and cart away what was left of their home. Oaks ran the big machinery, while the Horners’ friends carefully stepped through soot-covered remains of the trailer to help get the clean-up rolling.
“Saturdays are so precious to people ” yet they’re taking a whole Saturday to demolish a house for us. That’s what friends do,” says a grateful Dawn Horner.
Despite the dirty nature of the chore, the entire group was upbeat.
Ping joked about his rottweiler, a friendly dog named “Wife.” The women did some of the lighter lifting, and constantly checked to see if any of the workers needed a cool drink.
Dawn had a happy moment when she discovered the ironing board her father gave her unscathed in the back of a burned-out closet.
It’s an emotional day. She found an extra piece of the slate tile they had recently put down on the bathroom floor under a counter.
“It’s hard to see something that you built just be gone. It’s like it never existed,” she says. Dan Horner quietly helped load debris into the trash.
“What are you gonna do?” he says with a shrug. “I’m glad it didn’t happen 12 hours sooner or later (when the couple would have been home.)”
With some pride, Dawn fingered the small pair of silver flight wings pinned to her pink T-shirt. The pin was a gift to her from her father ” and somehow it came out of the fire unscathed.
She says the fire taught her that it’s not the furniture, or the photographs, or the physical possessions that are important in life. Rather, it’s the friends and family and the support they can offer.
“It puts life in perspective,” she says.
Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado