Evacuees grateful for assistance and protection

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Many people live in homes within close proximity to the fire that devastated the Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church structure on Sunday.

Some 15 families went through the trauma of evacuating their homes from the encroaching fire. No one knew how fast or where the fire might spread.

One day after the fire, the immediate thoughts of two families were to thank the people who helped them. Kenna Krause and Rod and Brenda Hamm live on A Street-to the southeast of the church.

“It could have been much worse,” Brenda Hamm said about the lives that weren’t lost and the homes that were protected from the fire. “Everyone worked very hard.”

Krause came home from a trip to Wichita Sunday around 3:30 p.m., smelled smoke and thought it was coming from a pasture fire. She soon learned the church close to her home was on fire.

After neighbors across the street called 911, Krause could see smoke coming out of a roof exhaust fan and around the edge of the roof sanctuary.

“We were just waiting for the fire trucks and pretty soon, you could see smoke coming up through the roof,” Krause said. “It all started happening pretty quick. It’s just kind of scary how fast it goes.”

Hamm’s home, at 206 E. A St., was closer to the fire than Krause, located at 212 E. A St.

Krause went to the Hamms to see if they needed help getting furniture out of the house and to safety. “I got there just when they were finishing,” Krause said. “Then I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I better start getting stuff out of my house.'”

But when she went back to her home, the emergency personnel told her it was too dangerous to go in to remove belongings. Fortunately, a friend had taken out an antique lap desk that was draped with a quilt made by her mother. It was one of many antiques she owns, but the other heirlooms had to be left in her house.

Watching the black smoke, at times engulfing her home so that it was obscured, Krause returned at one point to see dried pampas grass near a shed catch fire from the floating embers.

She called to a fireman to help her. “After they got that put out, they started really soaking my house down,” Krause said.

Earlier, the Hamms were told to get the most important furniture out of their home before the fire progressed.

“I didn’t know what to move at first,” Hamm said. Hamm went down to the basement and by the time she returned upstairs, the house was nearly empty of furniture.

“I think the volunteers increased to the point where just suddenly, our house was emptying.”

About 30 to 40 friends, strangers and students from Tabor College pitched in to move her furniture to a safer spot up the street.

“There was a time when we thought our house would probably go, because of the way the flames were going,” Hamm said. “But, I think the wind shifted or died down. It also seemed like once the sanctuary roof collapsed, that contained the flames.”

Although one house directly south of the church received extensive damage, others like Hamm and Krause said they only suffered smoke damage. They were thankful for the efforts all the community put forth to help them during a difficult time.

“I want to make sure that all the fire departments know from us homeowners that it was all definitely appreciated very, very much,” Krause said. “My heart goes out to all the people who are going to have to try and figure this all out.”

Thinking about all those who helped her family and those around her, Hamm said the stemming of the fire was in thanks to the tireless and dedicated work of emergency personnel. It was also a tribute to the prayers.

“People came and told us they were praying for the homes in the area and the protection of people and belongings,” Hamm said.

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