Story by John Blomster/Photo by Matthew Foor
Leroy Dennis thought the worst was behind him after his family recovered from a devastating fire that left his Butte County home in ashes.
Sadly, he was wrong.
Shortly after relocating his wife and two children to Oroville, Calif., a freak motor home accident nearly identical to the first sparked a blaze that nearly destroyed their new home and displaced the family a second time.
In each case, the American Red Cross provided a critical safety net by putting the family up in hotels and providing vouchers for food. The organization’s support helped put them in the position to rebuild their lives.
“Both times, the Red Cross has been a really great help, not just for me, but for other folks in the community as well,” Dennis said.
In 2019, the Dennises were living on a farm in Bangor, Calif., among a loose collection of trailers scattered about the property. Leroy owned a motor home, and one day he commissioned a mechanic to perform some routine maintenance on it.
The vehicle backfired, sending flames across the dry ground and instantly igniting the buildings. The residents barely had time to react, and in a year in which the water table was particularly low, they could barely muster a defense.
“Everything caught on fire so fast, and we just didn’t have any water to put it out,” Dennis said.
Having lost everything and with nowhere to go, the family connected with the Red Cross, which lined up lodging and food services. Each month while they recovered, the family was able to visit the Salvation Army and local churches to pick up packages of food.
Fast forward to December 2020. The Dennises had put the pieces back together, and again, Leroy was having motor home trouble.
He turned to an acquaintance in the neighborhood for help.
As the amateur mechanic popped the hood, Leroy headed back to his house before a commotion turned him around. He emerged to find the motor home ablaze, and the flames quickly spread to his walls and roof. Residents tried in vain to fight the fire with an extinguisher and hose.
As it turned out, the mechanic had been using a type of flammable starter fluid that ignited unexpectedly. By the time the fire department extinguished the blaze, Leroy’s house had been damaged so badly that it would be uninhabitable for months.
Once again, the family was without a roof over their heads. Once again, the Red Cross helped find them one.
In a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded even the simplest issues, losing one’s home is certainly up there with the worst of them.
It is a testament to the family’s resilience that they have been able to bounce from these two major tragedies, and today they are continuing to recover, restore and rebuild their lives together.
“It was just so crazy that both of the fires happened the way they did,” Dennis said, “I’m grateful to the Red Cross for the help they gave us.”
For information on how you can prepare for home fires, visit RedCross.org.