By Gordon Williams
The early morning fire that broke out July 3 in the Lynnwood WA home of Inayat Dawari could have been so much worse. All of the dwelling’s 10 occupants — all members of one extended family — escaped the fire safely. And the home’s sprinkler system kept the fire from spreading beyond the kitchen, where it began.
Still, the fire was bad enough. Most of the five adults and five children who lived in the home were sleeping when the fire began. They had to escape to safety through thickening acrid smoke and the smell of things burning. For the children — pulled out of bed and carried downstairs to safety — the escape was especially traumatic. The fire destroyed much of the kitchen. Water from the sprinkler ruined the carpeting, and the whole interior reeked of smoke. It would be three weeks before the family could live in their home again.
So that’s where things stood for the Dawari family on the morning of July 3: family members still in shock from their escape from the fire; the home unlivable — and no clear idea of who they could turn to for help.
That’s when the fire marshal on scene told Dawari that a disaster action team from the Snohomish County chapter of the American Red Cross had been alerted and was already en route to the fire scene. “The fire marshall told us about the Red Cross,” says Dawari. ”We had no idea what the Red Cross could do for us, but the marshal said they would help us.”
The two-person Red Cross team, made up of responder Kathy Kennard and her husband Richard, was on scene at the fire in less than an hour. A quick look-around, led by the on-scene fire marshal, showed that the kitchen had been destroyed and the home was unlivable. “The marshal told us the home was so polluted by toxic smoke that no one was even being allowed inside,” says Kathy Kennard.
It is the Red Cross mission to provide emergency assistance to victims of such disasters as home fires. It was quickly apparent to the Red Cross responders that the Dawaris would need such assistance.
The Dawari family is sizeable: Inayat, wife Rubina and their four sons, Inayat’s mother, sister and brother-in-law and their daughter. It was the brother-in-law who was cooking eggs for breakfast when oil in the pan ignited and started the fire. The Red Cross gave the family a debit card — called a client assistance card or CAC — loaded with enough money to pay for food and shelter for three days for the family.
So financial aid was one vital thing the Red Cross response team was able to provide —tangible assistance just when it was needed the most. “The Red Cross gave us hope that we could get through this,” Inayat says.
No less important was the team’s ability to bring an air of calm to a deeply traumatized family.
One minute the inhabitants of the fire dwelling were asleep. Then they were suddenly jolted awake and ordered out of the house. The kitchen was already ablaze and the house was rapidly filling with smoke. “We just grabbed the kids and ran,” Inayat says.
Fire researchers say a fire doubles in size every 30 seconds. Inayat, watching flames leap from stove to microwave to kitchen cabinets, says it seemed that the fire was doubling in size every five or 10 seconds. The brother-in-law tried to extinguish the fire, but it kept spreading until the sprinkler was activated and the fire was finally soaked.
Red Cross teams respond to dozens of fires each year. They are skilled in bringing calm to a disaster scene. In this case, says Kathy Kennard, they found the fire victims “numb, in a state of shock. They had no idea what to do or even who to ask for help. They had heard of the Red Cross, but had no idea of what we could do to help them.”
As veteran Red Cross disaster responders, the Kennards had the answers that Inayat and his family were looking for. “They talked to us,” says Inayat. “They told us what the Red Cross could do to help us. The Red Cross acted as though we were part of their family.”
All Red Cross disaster assistance is free of charge. You can help people affected by disasters like home fires, floods, wildfires and countless other crises by making a donation to support Red Cross Disaster Relief. These gifts enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Make a donation today by visiting www.redcross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 gift.