CHANA — A Chana couple is picking up the pieces after a fire destroyed their home last week during the height of the extreme cold temperatures.
Joyce Rueff, her husband Sheldon and their dog escaped the blaze Wednesday evening unharmed, although the house has been deemed a total loss. They are currently staying with a family member in Byron.
Rueff taught seventh and eighth grade students at Creston School for 17 years; her husband worked for a state park and farmed before that. She expressed gratitude for the support given to them from family, friends, neighbors and the community.
“It is overwhelming, beyond words. They are certainly God’s angels … their words of comfort through texting, phone calls, gift cards, money,” Rueff said. “Everyone is asking what they can do to help. We are just humbled and overwhelmed. It almost makes me speechless.”
Rueff added that the generosity did not stop there; someone at a gas station in Rochelle found out she had been having trouble with a debit card and foot the bill.
“I was having trouble with the temporary debit card and went out to the car to get cash. I came back in and they said Eddie paid for it. He heard about the fire, and the clerk said he was from the area and paid for the gas,” she said. “I thought that was pretty special.”
So far Rueff said the plan is to rebuild on the property; the contractor who built their home 15 years ago has agreed to rebuild another one.
The exact cause of the fire has not been determined yet.
“We highly suspect that it was fireplace related,” Rueff explained of the possible cause. “We lost the furnace that morning and it was a cold day; we went and cleaned out the vent and had the fireplace going from 4:30 a.m. until that night. There is a fan that blows air out and we think the wire short circuited. We could see flames under the fireplace then the house started filling with smoke.”
After a call to 9-1-1 and subsequently exiting the home, a neighbor came by and helped them get their vehicles out of the garage. Rueff managed to grab just a few items — her cell phone and diaries she had kept for the last 40 years. Everything else is lost.
She waited out the fire in the safety of a neighbor’s home; her husband stayed at the scene for a little longer before joining her.
“There are trees between our place and the neighbor’s house … it is not a good view of the house, I did not want to watch it burn,” she added. “My husband and I both thought the fire would be self-contained. We are so grateful to all those firefighters doing their best that night with those conditions. The community support — everyone has been amazing. We lost jewelry, some of my mother’s items, books, bibles … we had some antiques and family heirlooms too but the rest is just stuff.”