Community rallies around St. Paul family after home is destroyed by fire days before Christmas
For the Wirtz family, a New Brighton hotel room is their home for the holidays.
“I couldn’t be happier just to have them all here,” declares James Wirtz, a father of four.
“I mean, honestly, it’s been a hard couple of days for us,” adds his wife, Tara. “Especially with the kids. ‘Does Santa know where we are?’”
But the St. Paul family, with their kids ranging in age from seven to 17-years-old, plus a live-in family friend, and their dog Loki, aren’t here by choice.
As previously reported by 5 EYEWTINESS NEWS, a fire broke out in their East Jessamine Avenue home late Tuesday night.
Tara was in a basement bedroom with two of her youngest.
“And I was coughing in my sleep. I just kept coughing, coughing,” she recalls. “When I got up, the entire room was just in flames. The doorway was in flames, and I had to get my kids out.”
Tara did get everyone out, the kids in their sleeping clothes, but unhurt.
Outside, the family called 911.
Their cat, Honey also escaped, unharmed.
Meanwhile, James was at work, doing the overnight shift.
“She took the blunt of the situation with getting the kids out,” he says. “To be honest, she’s more like a hero than anything. This whole situation was scary.”
The family escaped the flames with only the clothes on their backs.
Their home was blackened and gutted on the inside. The losses included $20,000 in renovations, including a new furnace and flooring.
“The firefighters themselves said pretty much it was in the walls, it was electrical,” James explains. “It shot from the basement up through the wall, through the kitchen, up into the rooms upstairs and into the attic.”
But the Wirtz’s quickly found they’re not alone.
Saleha Erdmann, a social worker at Great River Montessori, where the Wirtz kids go to school, launched a crowd-funding campaign to help with clothes and other necessities.
“This is a family that is really dear to our community,” she said in a statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. “We’re all really devastated by the impact this has had on their lives and we’re glad they’re safe. We’re grateful for the outpouring of support we’re already seeing from the community.”
The crowd-funding effort has already raised several thousand dollars, with the goal of raising $15,000.
Erdmann says the donated funds will go directly to the family.
A spokesperson for the Eastside Community Page and Neighbors Facebook group says it’s raised about $2,200 and has collected donated clothes for the family.
“We really realize you have your family, but it’s not just you raising them, it’s the community helping,” James says. “There’s a lot of people in our corner that are backing us and helping us out.”
In this season of giving, the Wirtz’s say they’re grateful for what’s most important.
“I’m just thankful that I have my kids and we’re all here,” Tara adds. “We might have lost our home and everything that we own, but we didn’t lose each other.”
You can find the crowd-funding effort for the family HERE.