Horrific Monday

I was in a meeting Monday afternoon. Three phone calls hit my cell, but I ignored them.

A few minutes later, I glanced at my email (on my tablet laptop): someone asked about all the fire trucks in my neighborhood.

Oh, no!

I darted from the meeting. My wife’s voice message nervously said the next door neighbor’s house was on fire!

I scurried out of work, got the kid, and returned home to a surreal scene of firefighters, fire trucks, cops, neighbors, and smoldering wood.

View from my front porch, about 90 minutes after explosion. One fire truck had already left. Cops were blocking both sides of street and monitoring the block.
View from my front porch, about 90 minutes after explosion. One fire truck had already left. Cops were blocking both sides of street and monitoring the block.

Now flash back 45 minutes:

A contractor’s employee was stripping tile adhesive off the next door neighbor’s enclosed concrete-floored porch. Somehow the solvent fumes exploded.

Right after the explosion:

  • The employee was horrifically burned and dashed into the neighbor’s pool.
  • My wife thought a big tree hit our house. (She was on the other end.) She scooped up our 2 week old son and went outside to survey damage. That’s when she saw the flames shooting from the neighbor’s house, right towards our master bedroom. All she could do was watch, hoping the flames didn’t ignite our master bedroom.
  • Neighbor A ran outside with his phone, saw the smoke. Called 911 and ran around to the house. Went to their back yard and found the horrifically burned man in the pool. He stayed by the man, keeping him mentally engaged, for 20 minutes until the paramedics finally arrived, only departing to make sure paramedics were on the way. (Why did it take 20 minutes?)
  • Neighbor B ran outside, saw the flames, grabbed my water hose, and sprayed my house and the burning house until firefighters arrived. There’s a good chance he prevented my house from catching fire–my A/C unit got so hot that a plastic label warped. He said the horrifically burned man was hard to look at and concentrated on spraying the fire since neighbor A was attending to him.

    Warped plastic label on A/C condenser unit
    Warped plastic label on A/C condenser unit
  • Neighbor C ran outside and helped get my wife, who was almost beside herself, into her house, away from the smoke. She also helped move the next door neighbor’s vehicle and helped with other things.
  • The next door neighbor was inside but on the opposite end of her house. She ran to the other side, saw the flames, and headed out the door.

End result:

  • About 1/5 of my neighbor’s house is charred, with water infiltration and smoke elsewhere.
  • The horrifically injured man died of his injuries at Parkland Hospital’s burn unit.
Representative charring. (I'm not posting more pictures as they would invade the neighbor's privacy.)
Detail of extensive charring in enclosed porch.

I’m the kind of guy who wants to be useful. And I so badly wanted to be useful at the scene. But I realized my best use was to stay back. My neighbor is insured and physically taken care of. Her friends and family and several other neighbors had already descended on the scene to help.

About all I’ve been able to do is hug the neighbor twice on Monday and coiled up her hose on Wednesday. Oh, and complimented her on her new roof color (blue tarp).

I think my house’s master bedroom is the closest inhabited bedroom to this horrific scene. Even now I can see the poor man’s blood near the pool. His Burger King lunch and Diet Dr. Pepper can are still on a  table.

This is still my house, but something horrific happened next door that many will never forget.

As I hold my 2 week old son, my heart aches for this guy’s parents. He was once their 2 week old son. They had to take a $1,490 flight to Dallas to see him die. Then $2,146 to cremate his remains and do a funeral back home.

I’m also sad for my next door neighbor. She is so nice, looks after my pets and house when I’m gone. Why did this have to happen to her?

I’m also sad for my wife and the three other neighbors who had to witness this horrific, surreal scene firsthand. And my wife had to do it while holding my 2 week old son.

Now it’s Thursday. I’ve only seen my next door neighbor once, when her daughter stopped by to assure me the cleanup contractor’s generator won’t crank all night long. Let’s put this in context: neighbor loses 1/5 of house, has horrific scene, and comes to assure me the generator won’t run all night. What could I say? “Thanks”? I felt like a jerk.

Speaking of jerks, not all ambulance chasers are lawyers. While standing in front of her burning house, my neighbor received at least four business cards from police scanner-listening, bottom feeding contractors scrounging for business. Even supposedly name brand companies like Blackmon Mooring Steamatic were hounding her!

My neighborhood is raising money for the family of the deceased man. They were taking out a loan to cover the funeral expenses.

I’m president of my neighborhood association. I am picky about what goes through our official “announce” email group because, in a way, it connotes endorsement. Were we saying something against our neighbor if we endorsed this fundraising?

I ran it by the assocaition’s corporate board. This was new. We didn’t know what to do, so we were almost split down the middle, leaning conservative and saying don’t endorse. But I saw the legitimacy as the organic fundraising developed steam (on our unoffiicial “discuss” email group where anybody can send messages). This was nothing more than a compassionate response to a human tragedy.

So I ran it by the board again, a little more forcefully. I got their endorsement. This is what I finally emailed to the neighborhood:

Neighbors,

Neighborhood resident Sheryl Perier has spoken with Dallas Fire and Rescue Chaplain David Smith about Monday’s house fire victim.

His name is Charles Harris, Jr.. He was about 40 years old and is originally from Alabama.

His family had significant expenses:

  • $1490 for the flights so his parents could be with Charles when he died.
  • $2146 for the cremation (in Dallas) and Alabama funeral expenses.

They are trying to get a loan to cover this.

From Sheryl:

At the Alabama airport, Charles Jr.’s mother Patty had a headache and asked her husband Charles [the father] to go buy her some Advil. The man sitting next to them was a minister taking their flight through Dallas on his way to a convention in San Diego.  He gave them Advil and knelt down and prayed with them. There were empty seats on the flight in first class so the the minister and the parents were moved to first class so they could sit together. Next to them, in first class, was a nurse from the burn unit at Parkland, who was also able to comfort them. They made it to Parkland and were in the room with their son singing and praying for him. The doctor said he could hear. He was gasping for air. Patty told him it was okay for him to let go, that they were there with him, and that God was waiting for him. Within three minutes, he stopped gasping and his heart rate went down to nothing and he died.

Charles Jr.’s maternal grandmother is also dying from heart problems, and a minister is with her at this moment. She said God has angels all around her and that He will not give them more than they can bear. She felt like our call was also God’s hand reaching out to help them and thanks us.

If you feel so moved, you can make a donation to help the family. The donation should be a check made out to Christian Firefighters Association with a memo of “For the family of Charles Harris.” Per Chaplain Smith, this is a 501(c)(3), so your donation is tax deductible.

Checks can be dropped off at Gary McDonnell’s house at 1015 Erin Dr. Gary has the organization’s tax ID if you need it for your records.

This effort was organized by Sheryl Perier and is not being routed through the neighborhood association. It is intended to be a compassionate response by individual neighbors to a human tragedy.

Aren Cambre, President
Lake Park Estates Neighborhood Association, Inc.
A 501(c)(4) nonprofit

Individual neighbors have raised $540 as of 7:30 PM today. We’re still collecting.

Man, it’s been a weird week. Such contrasts. I am so fortunate; things could have been much worse.

Here’s two Dallas Morning News articles:

4 thoughts on “Horrific Monday”

  1. About once a year, there is a story about someone using solvents that somehow exploded. It’s always tragic. Almost always, the explosion could have been avoided with correct ventilation and turning off pilot lights on water heaters. I am very sorry this man lost his life but maybe this will remind the rest of us to be more informed and then believe the labels manufacturers put on solvent cans.

  2. DEAREST AREN,
    I AM SITTING AT WORK THIS MORNING AND HAVE BEEN THINKING OF EVERYONE IN DALLAS AND STARTED SEARCHING SITES AND SOMEHOW CAME UPON YOURS.
    I BELIEVE IT WAS MEANT FOR ME TO LOCATE THIS INFORMATION, AS THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I HAVE HEARD ALL OF THE DETAILS INVOLVING THE ACCIDENT WHICH TOOK MY SON’S LIFE.
    THERE ARE NO WORDS (EVEN FROM THE DEPTH OF MY HEART) TO BE ABLE TO TELL ALL OF YOU HOW MUCH WE APPRECIATE EVERYTHING YOU HAVE DONE FOR US DURING THIS TIME OF GREAT LOSS. FROM THIS TERRIBLE TRAGEDY GOD HAS BLESSED US TIME AND AGAIN WITH HIS WONDERFUL PEOPLE SURROUNDING US WITH LOVE AND SUPPORT. OUR HEARTS ARE WITH ALL OF YOU AS WE CONTINUE TO THANK GOD EACH DAY FOR EACH OF YOU AND YOUR KINDNESS AND CARING HEARTS. WE HAVE GOTTEN THRU THE BURIEL NOW (CHARLES’ FINALLY ARRIVED HERE ON FRIDAY, FEB. 27TH AROUND 4:30PM) AND WE HAD HIS BURIEL THE NEXT DAY. SHELBY MEMORY GARDENS DUG DOWN TO MY DAD’S VAULT AND WE WERE ABLE TO SPREAD CHARLES’ ASHES UPON HIS “BIG DADDY”. THE CEMENTARY STATED THEY HAD NEVER ALLOWED THIS PREVIOUSLY, BUT DUE TO THE CIRCUMSTANCES THEY ALLOWED THIS CHANGE IN PRACTICE. IT WAS A BEAUTIFUL CEREMONY WHERE ALL FAMILY MEMBERS AND FRIENDS WERE INVOLVED. WE CREATED A THICK BED OF FLOWERS WHERE HIS ASHES WERE PLACED AND THEN COVERED THEM IN ROSES. THIS IS THE FIRST TIME WE HAVE ENCOUNTERED A CREMATION SITUATION, BUT GOD BLESSED IT AND ALLOWED US TO FIND COMFORT WITH THIS SITUATION.
    WE ARE CONTINUING IN THE HEALING PROCESS AND EVERYDAY WE ASK GOD TO BE CLOSE BY BECAUSE WE ARE STILL LEANING ON “HIM” FOR SUPPORT AND COMFORT.
    WE ARE VERY CONCERNED ABOUT THE YOUNG FAMILY WHOSE HOME WAS BURNED. HOW ARE THEY DOING. WOULD YOU PLEASE LET THEM KNOW THAT WE ARE SO VERY SORRY FOR THEIR LOSS AND PRAY THAT THEIR LIVES WILL BE BACK TO NORMAL IN THE VERY NEAR FUTURE.
    AGAIN, GOD BLESS ALL OF YOU AND YOU WILL FOREVER BE IN OUR PRAYERS AND HEARTS. YOU ARE A SPECIAL PEOPLE WHOM GOD WILL BLESS GRACIOUSLY.
    CHARLES AND I ARE TRYING TO PLAN A RETURN TRIP TO DALLAS IN ORDER TO MEET AS MANY OF YOU AS POSSIBLE. OUR EMPLOYER HAS INDICATED THAT THEY WOULD BE WILLING TO HELP WITH OUR TRAVEL EXPENSES BECAUSE THEY KNOW HOW IMPORTANT THIS TIME WOULD BE FOR US.
    PRAYING THAT WE WILL BE ABLE TO MEET ALL OF YOU SOON.
    GOD BLESS,
    PATSY AND CHARLES HARRIS
    CALERA, ALABAMA

  3. Our neighborhood’s efforts raised about 1/3 of the money that came in and from the resulting press, along with a contribution by the Dallas FD’s Christian Firefighters Assn. Nothing will bring the family’s son back, but I know how much the outpouring of support meant to them and I know we did the right thing.
    I know they were also comnforted by speaking to the folks who responded to the scene.
    They are the sweetest folks and I look forward to meeting them in person.
    Thanks Aren for getting it out through the official neighborhood email list.
    We have the best “hood” in Dallas.

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