‘That’s my house!’
Community comes to quick aid after Sheffield family lost home to fire before Christmas
Cherry Grove Volunteer Fire Chief Mike Barr will never respond to a fire the same way again.
Not emotionally anyway.
While he is well-respected for going out of his way to help others, he’d never heard a call that his own home was on fire.
That is, until Friday, Dec. 13.
Both Mike and his wife April were at work that day, and their two children, a 13-old-son, Colby, and a 10-year-old daughter, Tymber, were at school.
“So it could have been much, much worse,” said April.
“My phone started going berzerk in my pocket,” said Mike, who was at his full-time job at Youngsville High School. “Honestly, I pulled the phone out and said, ‘Oh, my gosh, we have a call…’ I heard 6633 Cherry Grove Rd. THAT’S MY HOUSE!”
It wasn’t the first time Mike had heard his address on a call. A few years ago a passerby noticed smoke coming from the Barr residence and it was called in as a structure fire. That turned out to be smoke from a wood stove.
This time, Barr felt a “panicked feeling right away,” he said. “We didn’t have a wood stove anymore.”
The first voice Mike would hear on the radio was Matt Bell of the Sheffield Volunteer Fire Department
“He’s a very good friend of ours, so there’s a little sense of security there,” said Barr.
Within minutes, two more Sheffield trucks go en route.
“For them to get three trucks out the door within three minutes… amazing,” said Barr, who had to drive from Youngsville with that sense of not knowing.
Bell advised Barr that heavy smoke was showing.
Mike let him know that their eight-year-old chocolate lab was in the house.
“‘Please be advised the dog is in the house,'” Mike heard on the radio.
“All the way from Youngsville, I thought, ‘please save my dog,'” said Mike.
But the dog didn’t make it.
“When I made the turn at Johnson’s Tire and asked about the dog, nobody answered,” said Mike, “and I now know why.
“Sheffield firemen gained entry, and sent a second team in to search for the dog,” said Mike. “They pumped CPR on that dog for 15 or 20 minutes — 10 minutes longer than they needed to.”
Barr said Bell later told him that the temperature of the fire was reading anywhere from 1,000 to 1,100 degrees.
The cause of the fire was determined to be electrical, and started in a kitchen wall “which bordered our bedroom,” said Mike. “Nobody can explain why the trailer is still standing. The heat was so intense at Colby’s bedroom, his lightbulb melted. A smoke detector melted to the wall. As far as the furniture and beds go, they were all lost.”
April said they have since been able to salvage some personal belongings like baby album photos, while they certainly “smell like smoke.”
More than that, both Mike and April say they have gained an even greater appreciation of the community — family and friends which include first responders and volunteer firefighters.
“We had Sheffield with three trucks, Cherry Grove, Clarendon, Pleasant, and Glade, and an estimated 25 to 30 volunteers — at 11 a.m. on a Friday morning,” said Mike.
“The community has rallied around us,” said Mike. “We are very humbled at the number of people who have rallied around us. This was very hard for us. We’ve never once had our hand out.”
Mike said he was persuaded to accept immediate help from the Red Cross. “Kevin (Bell) pulled us aside and said, ‘How many hundreds of people have you pulled aside and talked them into taking help from Red Cross,'” said Mike. “Somebody came up to me and said, ‘listen, you and April have helped so many people in the community and never stuck around to receive the thanks and that’s the way you want it.’ I don’t do the stuff I do for the recognition, so they spun that around on me, but it was very hard for both of us to accept. I was oozing everything you look for in a shocked victim. I was in shock.”
Mike said on the Friday night of the fire, Grace United Methodist Church “put us up in the Hampton (Inn).”
The Barrs needed any and all essentials they could get, from toothbrushes to clothing.
“The bill came to over $200 and I said, ‘We’re going to need some help,'” said Mike.
Help arrived early and often in the form of friends, loved ones, and even strangers.
Matt Bell, of Sheffield VFD, was first on the scene. He said he responded with as much care and expediency as he does any job. But he stayed on the scene a little longer than he normally would and it started to hit him soon after that this had hit close to home. As soon as he returned to the Sheffield Volunteer Fire Department, members got together to talk about what they could do to help a fellow volunteer firefighter and lifelong friend.
“It was definitely an eye-opener being up there,” said Bell. “I will never lose the voice of Mike on the radio talking with me, asking if we found their family pet. That hit me the most right there, and I will carry that with me for a long time.”
The Barrs have been building a new home within eyeshot for the past four years, but have built it when time and finances dictated.
“I’ve got pictures of Tymber four years ago doing drywall,” said Mike.
But it wasn’t finished.
“My assistant chief (at Cherry Grove Volunteer Fire Department) called us… and he said your kids are going to have Christmas in your new house,” said Mike.
Mike told him that he was crazy.
“This is the same group of guys, on Sunday afternoon, there’s a post thrown up on Facebook that the Sheffield and Clarendon fire departments have opened their doors to any donations,” he said. “The next thing I know fire chiefs are pulling into our driveway asking us what we need. Then there’s a Pleasant benefit… and they tell us it’s the biggest crowd they’ve had in a while.”
Fellow members at Cherry Grove were so true to their word, sometimes working until 1 a.m. to get the Barrs into their new house.
“My assistant fire chief put a message out: ‘We’re going to have a work bee at Mike and April’s house.’ We had 20 to 25 people show up with dumpsters.
“On the new house: Light fixtures, trim, carpet in the kids’ bedroom, floors laid, water lines finished — insulated and blocked in, septic finished…
“It happened,” said Mike. “A week-and-a-half before Christmas and we had lost it all. Tymber told April she didn’t know if we were going to have a Christmas because we were in a hotel. We needed everything. I had one pair of jeans and two sweatshirts for four days. With everything going on in the world, with all the politics, there is still good out there. We’re living it!”
Mike said they were at the Hampton Inn from Dec. 13 to 21, then stayed at his parents’ house on Sunday, Dec. 22. “The guy came to do the inspection (at the new house) on Monday,” said Mike. “Tymber said it best: ‘You know, mom, I didn’t know this many people liked us,'” said Mike.
“Thank you is not even enough,” said April, but the Barrs celebrated Christmas by a Christmas tree in their house on Dec. 25.
“We moved in Monday night,” said Mike. “Everyone who has helped us, I have told, ‘listen, I will pay you back.’ They say you’re crazy, but… we will. We’re very grateful; how many people can measure how much they’ve impacted people prior to lying in a pine box. And we get to see it.”
Mike said a total stranger came up to him and asked “if I was Mr. Barr. He said, ‘I want to tell you, you must have reached an awful lot of people in your community in your life.’
“We have a lot of faith and I think we owe a lot,” said Mike. “The Barr family would like to thank everybody who has helped, whether it was a helping hand, a donation even just a hug or a prayer. It was all greatly appreciated. I will never look at a structure fire the same way again. You never think of the next day — I’ve now lived the next day.”