Stefanie Lowe is just beginning to come to grips with life in a motel room piled with donated clothing and stuffed animals for her two sons, Ryan, 12, and Matthew, 8.
The house the Lowes were renting on Dee Highway burned to the ground Sunday morning, leaving them with only the pajamas they were wearing when they escaped.
“I can’t even let the boys out to play,” Lowe said, gesturing toward the window of her small room at the Meredith Motel. “There’s a huge cliff.”
Lowe had gotten up early last Sunday to make breakfast for her kids. When she flipped on the kitchen light switch, nothing happened.
“I didn’t think much of it,” she recalled. Then she went into the bathroom, and that light didn’t work either. She checked the breaker box and saw that one of the breakers had switched off. She tried to re-set it and out of the corner of her eye, she saw the kitchen light flash on, then go out again.
By then, Ryan was up and Lowe had him watch the bathroom light while she flipped the breaker. Nothing.
“I had made oatmeal, and I said ‘Well, let’s finish breakfast and then we’ll deal with this,’” Lowe said. The three were in Lowe’s bedroom watching TV when Matthew got up to go to the bathroom.
“He came back and said ‘Why are there flames in the attic?’” Lowe said. Lowe jumped up and ran to get the fire extinguisher from the kitchen. She piled some things on the floor of the hallway so she could reach the hatch that opened into the attic.
When she pushed it up, all she could see was flames. Then her pile collapsed and she fell to the floor.
“I screamed at the boys to grab my purse and get out of the house,” Lowe said. “We all ran out the door in our jammies and bare feet.” As they waited for the car to warm up, flames began leaping out from under the eaves. Lowe drove to a neighbor’s house, then to another when she couldn’t rouse anyone. Finally someone opened their door and Lowe screamed at them to call 9-1-1.
Lowe left her kids with the neighbor and returned to the burning house. She found the family’s dog on the porch whining at the front door and called him away just before the door blew out.
Then she watched the house burn to the ground. The fire department arrived and “did everything they could,” Lowe said. According to Parkdale Fire Chief Ty Erickson, the house was “too far gone” to even determine what caused the fire.
“I just watched and thought, oh my God, it’s all gone, it’s all gone,” Lowe said. “I guess I realized that when we ran out the door, but I felt like I had to watch.”
Lowe hasn’t taken her boys back to the ruined house. She says she might this weekend, when they have a couple of days to process it.
“Matthew had a whole zoo of stuffed animals in there,” Lowe said.
The Red Cross gave Lowe a voucher for three nights at the Meredith Motel, and a voucher for Wal-Mart, where she took the boys on Sunday night to buy clothes to wear to school Monday morning.
“They protested about going right back to school,” Lowe said. “But I told them they had to stay focused, it’s a new quarter. We’re not going to let this get us down.”
Housing for People offered Lowe a voucher for another three nights at the motel after the Red Cross voucher was up. That would let them remain at the Meredith through Friday night.
“What I would do for a week straight,” Lowe said. She’s got some leads on rentals, and hopes to find at least temporary housing this weekend. But money is tight; Lowe had just started a new job at Nobi’s before the fire, and has had to take this week off.
But donations of clothing and toys keep coming in, piling up in the already-crowded room. May Street School, where Matthew is in third grade, collected donations for the family this week, and friends and acquaintances — and even strangers — brought boxes of useful things to Room 22. A manager from Rosauers dropped off a box of clothes and a gift certificate for use at the store; on the box, in black magic marker, was written, “Angel’s Clothes.”
“God bless him,” Lowe said. “God bless everyone who’s helped us already. There are so many wonderful people all throughout this valley.”
Lowe, who was in a bad car accident a few years ago on Dee Highway not far from where the house burned down last weekend, says she’s hoping to find a place to live in town.
“I’m not exactly batting a thousand out there,” she said.
But she’s keeping the faith — for her boys’ sake.
“Something will happen,” she said. “We’ll get back on our feet.”