Flames burn the house but not the spirit


Danna Webster, KP News

Firefighters were dispatched to a late afternoon house fire the first week of October.

A fire boat from the Anderson Island Fire Department responds to the Vaughn house fire. Photo courtesy Brian Heaven

The Vaughn home of Sylvia Haase and Virginia Liebergessell was completely destroyed. According to the Key Peninsula Fire Department report, a boater in North Bay spotted the blaze and called 911. Dispatchers used latitude and longitude data from the cell towers to determine the location just outside Vaughn Bay.

When firefighters arrived, the home was nearly 75 percent involved in flames. A fireboat from Anderson Island and a water tender from Kitsap County Fire District 7 were called to assist 17 Key Peninsula firefighters in combating the blaze. The fireboat was able to douse flames in the main body of the beachfront home while firefighters on the ground attempted to stop the fire from extending further toward the main entry.

The cause was believed to be due to a wiring staple that had pierced the cable when the home was constructed. Firefighters remained on the scene to continue working on hot spots and crews returned the following day to assist the homeowners with salvage.

Photo courtesy Brian Heaven

“Picture. Picture. Picture. That’s my message. Take a picture of everything in your house,” said Sylvia Haase. The first 10 days after the fire were spent dealing with the insurance companies, which required a complete inventory of the contents in the house. The fire burned everything right down to the foundation. Hasse says it was easy to remember where the Steinway stood but showing all the other furniture in drawings was difficult. Even more difficult was the attempt to itemize the contents of the cupboards and every drawer. If a drawer held linens, they had to provide a count, a cost, and place of purchase. Photographic records of their possessions had been taken and were filed on the home office computer, but that melted in the blaze. “Put the pictures in a safety deposit box,” Haase said.

Hasse and Liebergessell left their home on the Wednesday morning of Oct. 3 for a long day trip. Because they expected to return late that night, a friend was babysitting their dog, Chester. When they pulled out of the driveway that morning, they left their near-perfect dream house, their possessions, their family heirlooms and mementos, and a brand new remodeled kitchen. Their sole possessions at their return were the clothes on their backs and Chester.

Photo courtesy Brian Heaven

“Friends gathered at Nancy and Tom Howard’s home, and waited in the road to meet us and turn us away from our driveway,” said Haase. “They were crying harder than we were.” Both women are longtime active members of the Key Peninsula Civic Center.

Rebuilding and starting over is not easy but the process has begun. Haase shares that this will be the second time Liebergessell must replace a grand piano. The first piano was destroyed aboard a ship during her move to the United States from Australia. The freight box was stowed on the deck, took on water during a storm, and the piano sat soaking in the box while a strike settled at the landing.

Because they are able to rebuild and replace their losses from the fire, Leibergessell is redirecting some of the funds collected for them by friends toward victims of other fire disasters.

A new piano will be the first purchase after their house is rebuilt. Plans are forming to buy the piano, hire a concert pianist and hold a concert for all their dear neighbors. “That will be a resurrection,” Haase said in the spirit of her profession. In 2002, she was ordained as an Episcopal deacon. She serves the St. Hugh’s Episcopal Church in Allyn.

Out of the ashes

Virginia Thompson, longtime Key Peninsula resident, a good friend, and member of Haase’s church, wrote her reflection of the fire tragedy. She called it “Out of the Ashes.”

“The fire came unexpectedly in the night. Wild flames desecrated the house, like a dragon swaying its tail over a life’s work — built from dreams, to house two retired school teachers. Up in smoke went family heirlooms, records of the past, music, books, clothing, food, furniture, computers, phones — all the paraphernalia of modern life. Firemen came, and were too late.

Next morning, Thursday, they were picking through the ashes. Looking for the reason, if there was any reason, for the consuming fire. Still some warm spots mind the carnage. Found a few old photographs, a few coins from a collection, nothing more.

First came neighbors: ‘Our house is empty this weekend — come stay there.’ ‘My house has been empty since my wife died. Stay as long as you like.’ Church members came to stand vigil and took the photos to reconstruct them in a book. A food chain was planned for those who wanted to help over the next few days by preparing meals. The druggist would not accept payment for the drugs they needed the next day. An account was set up at the bank for anyone who wanted to contribute.

Prayers at church. Of course, calls from friends.

Out of the ashes came this incredible outpouring of love and concern, a fire of another kind.” [/box]