May 4, 2014, started out like any other day for JoAnna Henderson. She had been spending the day with family and was excited to go bid on some items at a neighbor’s auction. Little did she know that during the forty minutes she was away, fire would destroy her Ottumwa home. “I was talking to the auctioneer when a bunch of people started running down the street,” Henderson said. “I wondered what could’ve been going on when my son ran by and said our house was on fire.”
By the time she arrived home, the fire department was already there. “I saw smoke billowing out of all the windows, and my daughter-in-law was running around the house trying to see if our dogs had gotten out okay,” Henderson recalled. “It was completely overwhelming. All I could see was all the memories that were just going to be gone. I sat down on the curb across the street because I felt like the wind got knocked out of me and I couldn’t breathe.”
Henderson was in shock as she sat across the street watching firefighters work. She called it was one of the most upsetting experiences in her life. “I just kept thanking God my kids were not in the house. I had been in a grumpy mood that day and told all of them to leave me alone while I got dinner ready. Now I’m happy that I did!” Henderson laughed. “All I could think about was I had been in there 45 minutes ago and didn’t notice anything wrong. Everything was normal and fine.”
As she waited to speak to the firefighters, she couldn’t help but wonder if cooking a turkey had caused the fire. Later, they told her they believed the cause had been electrical.
After talking to police, Henderson said she was surprised to see an American Red Cross worker there ready to help. “I’m not even sure who got ahold of them, she just showed up,” Henderson said. “It was a girl I went to school with. The Red Cross was one of the first there to help me; they were there before my insurance even was.”
Henderson said while most everything about that day is a blur, the one thing that stands out in her memory is the Red Cross being there. “They helped us so tremendously. She gave me a card with money for food and clothing. They also helped me get set up in a hotel until my insurance was able to finally help. I hadn’t even thought about where I would stay yet since I was in such shock, and the Red Cross had already figured it out for me.”
Since that day, Henderson has returned home only once to try and recover what she could from the debris, but the experience made her so emotionally and physically sick she hasn’t gone back. She said the worst part about a disaster is the memories that you lose that cannot be replaced. She recently moved into a new home and she had the fire department check the electrical wiring. “It only takes them a little bit of their time to come check out to make sure your home is safe,” Henderson said. “Since they still aren’t sure what caused the fire in my old home, I want to make sure we are doing what we can to prevent this from ever happening again.”