‘I think it’s going to be OK’

Four days after Loretta and Garry Klose watched their rural tri-story home go up in flames, Garry quietly rummaged through the rubble of black ashes and found his mother’s wedding-band set.

“The day of the fire was the first anniversary of his mother’s death, and he just found her wedding ring,” Loretta Klose said. “I think it’s going to be OK.”

Was she talking about the ring or their lives?

The attitude and activities of this couple, just days after the fire of Dec. 7, leaves little doubt that Klose was talking about both.

On the day the ring was discovered, the origin of the fire along U.S. Highway 56 in rural Marion was still under investigation.

The fire appeared to have started from an indoor hot tub, Klose said.

“We suspect that it was either wiring to the hot tub or the motor getting hot,” she said.

The motor was set to recycle twice a day, once in the morning and once at night, and it was recycling when Klose and her husband were called into work, around 5 p.m.

Klose has a 30-hour-a-week job as case manager for Kansas Children’s Service League.

“I work with juveniles who are getting close to the court system-or are in the court system-and their families,” Klose said.

Whatever problems they’re having, her job is to help get them help and lead them to the right resources, she said.

“I’ve worked with lots of families who have had fires, never thinking I’d be in the same situation.”

Ten hours a week, Klose works as a juvenile intake officer for Marion County.

In the evenings, she enters burial information from local cemeteries into a database for the city of Marion, and pursues a hobby of genealogy study.

“I also work part-time as a 911 dispatcher, and then I do courthouse records for the Free Press,” Klose said. “And that’s it.”

Garry is a sergeant for the Marion Police Department and has worked there off and on for a total of 23 years.

His specialty is arson investigation.

The Kloses have been married for nine years and between them have three sons, a daughter and grandchildren.

They bought the wood-frame house, with aluminum siding and a detached garage, five years ago. It sat on two and one-half acres with a spring-fed pond to the south of the house.

“It was a four-bedroom home, and we used one bedroom as an office,” Klose said. “What would have been the master bedroom was down on the bottom level, and we used that as a large office. I worked out of my home, and Garry had a desk in there, too.”

The night of the fire the Kloses were both off work, which was unusual for the busy couple.

“I got called to go see a client for a home visit, and I left just right at 5 p.m.,” Klose said. “Garry got called in to help on an investigation probably 10 minutes after I left.

“We should, by all rights, have been in the house when it happened, but God was looking out for us.”

Two girls were driving by the Klose property the night of the fire. They later told Klose they initially saw flames and thought the fire was part of a controlled burn.

“But it kind of worried them so they turned around, and they came back and came down the drive,” Klose said.

Two ridges lay between the main road and the Klose home, keeping it well-hidden from the road.

“When they got down the drive, they saw the tree (over the second ridge) was on fire and went to Pizza Hut and reported it.”

Klose’s oldest son, who lives in Wichita and works part time for the Marion Police Department, was on duty the night of the fire and was the first one on the scene.

The southwest section of the house was engulfed in flames when her son arrived.

“He knew Garry was OK because Garry had gotten called to work, too,” Klose said. “But he had no idea where I was so he went to the front door and tried to get in and burned his hand on the door.”

As soon as he opened the door, flames shot out.

“Thank God,” she said. “He would have gone in looking for me, and we may have lost him.”

Her son radioed Garry, who was working undercover and happened to be carrying a portable radio instead of his normal one.

But her son had trouble getting through to Garry and shouted to be heard.

“He started hollering on the radio ‘Where’s Mom, where’s Mom’ to my husband, but because Garry had a portable he couldn’t understand what he was saying.”

Garry’s radio number is 29.

“And finally, I think it was my son who said, ‘Twenty-nine’s house is fully engulfed,’ and of course Garry knew then, and he came out here.”

But they still didn’t know where Loretta was. Although she normally carries her cell phone, she was in a hurry that night and neglected to take it with her.

The employees at the 911 center knew she always carried a pager so they paged her, but she didn’t have a phone to call them back so she decided to drive to the sheriff’s office.

It was then that Klose was told about the fire. She immediately drove to her burning home, arriving there at 7:30 p.m.

The fire consumed the house, but firemen were able to save the detached garage standing just feet away from the ravaged home.

“My boss at the 911 center came out as soon as she heard, and it happened to be her wedding anniversary,” Klose said.

“She found out what we needed immediately and called the Red Cross and got our medications and arranged for us to get clothing.”

Help also came from family and friends, some turning back around to drive to Wal-Mart to buy whatever clothing was needed to get the couple through the night.

“We had friends and family and everybody out here while it was still burning, wanting to do whatever they could to help,” Klose said. “We had friends leave Christmas parties to come out here-it’s just overwhelming.”

That evening was just the beginning of an outpouring of help from not only friends and family but total strangers in a community that has been helped by the couple and could now, in turn, help them.

“We had a friend come out right away while the fire was still burning and told us he takes care of an elderly man’s business,” Klose said.

The older gentleman is currently living in a nursing home, and the friend offered them the empty house to stay in as long as they needed it.

“He’s letting us use it for a little while, and he said don’t worry about it, we’ll talk about details later,” she said, adding, “And later hasn’t come yet.”

When the Kloses first walked into the temporary house it was unfurnished.

“But by Sunday afternoon, we had basically all we needed,” Klose said. “People just brought things. We’d come home from being somewhere, and there would be things on the porch. We have no idea where they came from.”

Their children soon brought them a Christmas tree with all the seasonal trimmings. Two granddaughters made decorations, in the shape of a star and bells, out of construction paper, glitter and sequins.

Another granddaughter wanted to help in a way that only a child could fully understand.

“My granddaughter sent down a teddy bear so I’d have something to hug,” Klose said.

Klose soon learned the business community was also reaching out to help them.

“We can’t go anywhere in town and pay for anything-businesses won’t let us,” Klose said. “Over the years, we read in the newspapers, and we hear people say, ‘Shop at home, shop at home.’ And people always use the excuse ‘Well, the selection’s better out of town, and the prices are cheaper out of town.’

“But the owners of (those stores out of town) are not going to come out and hold your hand while you watch everything you own go up in flames. These people did.”

The tears finally couldn’t be held back any longer as Klose talked about the boxes put out in some of the stores in Marion to collect money for them.

“We’ve been told people are just putting money in, and little children are putting in pennies,” Klose said as she wiped away the tears. “I’ve always had the philosophy that there’s no situation devastating enough that some good doesn’t come out of it, and this just proves that.”

Klose also quickly pointed out the valiant efforts of the fire department in containing the fire and saving the garage.

“We had a plastic thermometer on the side of the garage and it melted-it was that hot,” Klose said.

The claims adjuster came out on the Monday following the fire.

“He said, over and over, ‘I can’t believe that the fire department saved your garage,'” Klose said.

Kloses lost many precious memories to the flames. But with the help of family and friends, digging through the ashes, they recovered the wedding ring set, her father’s 100-year-old iron baby bed and silverware handed down from generation to generation.

The family dog, Miss Marvel, part rottweiler and part lab, was an outside dog and wasn’t in the house when it went up in flames. A tom cat and an older, female cat also escaped, but two were lost to the fire.

The fire was a culmination of several tragedies for the couple within a year’s time.

“A year to the day, we lost Garry’s mother,” Klose said. “In August, I lost my only surviving sister, then Garry had surgery, and shortly after, I had surgery, and then this.

“So it’s been a real bad year, and we know our family and friends are there for us, but to see total strangers (helping), you just don’t expect that.”

The Kloses plan to rebuild and, as a part of the healing process, are talking about the type of home they might want to put on the land they love so much.

“Garry will retire in two and one-half years,” Klose said. “We had talked about maybe at that time moving away. But we’re not going to now. These people have been too good to us. We’re going to stay.”

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