A bad thing gone good

Although it was ten below zero in New Franken on February 9, 2014, it was pretty hot at the Campbell home.

It was a Sunday morning. Katie and Mark Campbell had escaped the deep-freeze conditions of the 2014 Wisconsin winter and were enjoying warmer temps while visiting Mark’s parents in Austin, Texas.

After church, they stopped for brunch before heading back to the apartment. It was the last full day of their visit. “I had silenced my cell phone while we were out, but when we arrived back at the apartment, we found that we had missed multiple calls and the answering machine was blinking with messages.” Katie’s first contact was with a close friend. “She said, ‘Don’t talk. Just listen. You had a house fire but everything is under control. Your kids are fine. Your house is not fine, but it will be,’” Katie recalls.

The Campbell’s two adult children (ages 22 and 25) were at the home. They had been painting a room for them as a surprise.

Loud crackling and popping sounds coming from the family room fireplace caused their daughter Eva to investigate. Her brother Ben had used the fireplace earlier but there were only embers in the fire box. She went outside to look at the house and saw smoke coming from the roof and flames surrounding the chimney.

Community heroes

Eva waved down neighbors who were on their way to the store and asked for help. They immediately took action, calling 911 and shoveling snow onto the roof to try to contain it.

“We live in a great community,” Katie said. “One of our neighbors works in disaster relief for the Red Cross. He got on the phone and started calling everyone he could think of, telling them, ‘Come to the Campbell’s house, we need help.’” Timeliness and everyone’s fast action saved the house and much of the Campbell’s personal property. Neighbors went into the house and retrieved personal items, such as family photos.

The family room was destroyed before the fire was contained. “I’m amazed that the fire department was able to stop it. It was so cold, and because we are out in the country, there are no hydrants. I guess they had a bucket brigade going on. They filled a large square container with water and connected hoses to it to get the water onto the roof. They did a great job.”

Katie and Mark finally talked to their kids. “They were a little bit in shock. Neighbors and friends were there for them and made sure they had someplace to stay.”

Just in case

“Whenever I go on a trip, I always leave a note for my kids: ‘If anything should happen, this is what you need to do and where you need to go for information.’ Ironically, the one thing that wasn’t included was home insurance information. But Ben knew to go to the file cabinet where we keep a lot of our important documents and found our home insurance file. He gave it to my close friend and she called Bob Manor (Member Benefits Claims Manager) on Sunday. My friend said, ‘I’ve already talked to your insurance company and they’re on it.’ We didn’t actually talk to Bob until the next day.”

0115 fire before afterComing back to...

Mark and Katie returned to New Franken on Monday with no home to go to. “Bob told us to go to a hotel until we could find a more permanent place to live during the rebuild. Member Benefits was great. Bob said, ‘You’re going to need to eat out, you’ll need clothes, whatever you need to live. Just don’t worry about it.” Because there was extensive smoke damage throughout the house, everything was packed up and removed for special cleaning. It’s called a packout.

“Seeing the damage for the first time was tough. But, it could’ve been so much worse. We had been using our fireplace all winter, so it could’ve happened any time really. If the fire had started while we were sleeping, I don’t know that we would be here right now. We’re fortunate that no one got hurt, and we didn’t lose anything that couldn’t be replaced.”

Rebuilding and reflecting

The Campbells stayed in a hotel for nine days before they found a two bedroom apartment where they lived for about nine weeks while their home was being cleaned and repaired. “We were so very happy when we moved back. It’s all good now. I don’t think it could’ve gone any better. Responsiveness, fairness, and mutual respect is what we want from our insurance company and it’s what we got from Member Benefits. The relationship between Member Benefits, the claims adjuster, and us was really great and it made the whole process go smoothly.”

The Campbells said the best thing was that they could choose the contractor. “We had someone we wanted to hire for the rebuild. Bob just said yes. There was no debate. To me that was the most important thing.”

The cause

The fire inspection indicated that the fire was caused from creosote in the chimney that was probably ignited from a bird nest lodged between the chimney liner and the flue.

“If you are going to have a wood fireplace, clean it every year,” encourages Katie. “We had been doing it ourselves, but I would hire it out to a professional now.”

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