Story by Kate Walters and Photos by Carol Lowell/ American Red Cross
“We felt very alone during those long nights on the property. We didn’t know that there were volunteers out there who would want to be there for us.” – Doreen and Mike Preuit
On Thursday, October 18, Doreen and Mike Preuit were on their way home from work early in the morning when they received a distressing phone call informing them that their mobile home was fully engulfed in flames.
When they arrived at their travel trailer it was in ashes. The first thing Doreen thought of were her dogs, which she lovingly refers to as her babies. “Our dogs are not just ‘dogs’ to us. They are what complete our family.” she says. They received the heartbreaking news that one of their precious dogs, Peaches, had died in the fire. Later they would discover that a rather large sum of cash was burned inside the trailer as well.
They were able to salvage a few things. The scorched pages of the family bible remained intact in a former storage container under the bed. “Every word of God is still there, from Genesis to Revelations.” Mike shares. One small fire-safe box protected their birth certificates and a special keepsake ring that belonged her mother.
But these are strong and resilient people. They were going to get through this on their own. They didn’t want any help. The night after the fire, they decided to stay with their 4 dogs on their land out on the plains just south of Colorado Springs. They took the time to bury Peaches under a large boulder and put up a beautiful memorial for her. Then they organized the remaining dog shelters in an enclosed formation around a protected space where they put up a tent for shelter.
Little did they know that they had some very, very long and grueling nights ahead of them. As they hunkered down, the wind began to roar, and the snow began to fall. But still, they chose to stay on the property behind their newly established “dog kennel fortress”. One night, they heard a commotion outside the tent and discovered that one of the dogs had been attacked and injured by a coyote through the bars of the kennel. They withstood these trying conditions for an entire week.
After exhausting nights spent on the plains, enduring freezing temperatures, wind and snow, and an animal attack, they finally decided to reach out for help. They found a dog-friendly hotel and checked in. Then they called The Red Cross in search of support.
Within hours a Disaster Action Team (DAT) from the Red Cross met with them at their hotel room. The team provided them with funds for lodging so that they could stay safe and warm in the hotel for a few more nights. They were given comfort kits filled with the toiletries they needed so that they could clean up and get back to work.
The volunteers who were on the DAT team have very specific experience with helping people who have just lost their home to fire. They offered advice on how to embark on a recovery plan. They gave them a list of other local groups that could help them with extra food and replacement clothing. They connected the Pruiets with information about local volunteer groups that will come and help clear the land.
Mike gets misty eyed when he says, “They were like two angels, really. Even though they brought us money and things, the most incredible part was that they just listened. We felt very alone during those long nights on the property. We didn’t know that there were volunteers out there who would want to be there for us.”
The following day a Red Cross caseworker called the couple to check in. Doreen was still understandably distraught about losing her dog, Peaches. The caseworker helped connect her with a trained counselor who spent time on the phone with her helping support her as she worked through some of her grief.
She also told the volunteer that she had lost her glasses in the fire and was having trouble seeing when she drove. The next day she met a volunteer at the Red Cross chapter office where she received a voucher that provided her with an eye exam and a new pair of glasses.
As Doreen and Mike stand in the midst of the burnt remains of the place they called home, they are thankful. Thankful to have each other. Thankful for the dogs they love. And thankful that the Red Cross was there in their time of need. So thankful, in fact, that they hope to become Red Cross volunteers themselves as soon as they get back on their feet.
A letter of thanks from the Preuits:
“We will never be able to express our gratefulness and how very blessed we feel having so many people from the Red Cross genuinely care, worry, and really help people such as my husband and myself when we were feeling alone, scared, cold and almost hopeless. They took time out of their own personal lives to help others … We took longer than usual to begin to heal from this dark patch that we felt we were under. We believe you are our angels. Our gratitude can never begin to thank you for all you have done.”