Thanks to the Red Cross, the escape plan was in the back of our minds when the fire happened.
Jimi Hardin was exhausted after a long day of fishing on the Washington coast. He had caught several salmon and had started to smoke them on the evening of June 20, 2016. After making sure the smoker was working properly, he dozed off, dreaming of the fish he would soon enjoy with his friends in the coming days. But his bounty would never be shared. The next thing he knew, it was 3:30 a.m. Jimi opened his eyes, still foggy from sleep, and looked outside through a nearby window. The eerie glow of orange flames stared back. He opened his eyes wider, wondering if it was a bad dream. The flames were real—his home was on fire.
Still in a daze, Hardin called out to his girlfriend, his son and his son’s friend to get out. Up until that point, the home’s windows had kept the smoke outside. Just as the fire erupted, the glass in the windows blasted into the house, exploding from the heat of the fire.
“It was like a tornado, it just happened so fast,” recalled Hardin. “By the time I got to the front door, there was fire on three sides of the house.”
Hardin’s son and his son's friend escaped through one of the bedrooms while his girlfriend made it safely to the backyard with their two dogs. Hardin remembers watching the fire consume nearly the entire house.
A neighbor called the fire department. Crews quickly responded, and the fire was reduced to smoldering, but not before the home was a total loss. Hardin and his family stood helplessly in the street, wondering where to turn next. That’s when Red Cross volunteers arrived.
“The coals were still hot when you came and you told us that everything was going to be okay,” Hardin said. “We were still in shock and didn’t know where to turn. It was so comforting and encouraging. It let us know we were going to get through this.”
The visit on the night of the fire was not the first time the Red Cross had been to Hardin’s home. A year earlier, volunteers had come to his neighborhood and installed free smoke alarms. They also explained fire safety and helped Hardin develop a fire escape plan. He says this plan is the reason everyone safely escaped the home fire.
“We had never talked about what to do until the Red Cross came to install smoke alarms," Hardin said. “I wouldn’t have thought about it before that. When the fire happened and I screamed for everyone to get out, we all went into motion and everyone got out and knew what to do because we had had that conversation.”
Thankfully, Hardin and his family escaped the fire in their home and were not harmed. Many people are not as fortunate – an average of seven people die every day in home fires. That’s more deaths than hurricanes, floods and tornadoes. Since 2014, the Red Cross has been working to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by home fires. The Red Cross has installed more than 13,000 smoke alarms in homes that need them in Oregon and Washington alone. Nationwide, the Red Cross will soon install its one millionth smoke alarm. So far, more than 235 lives have been saved by these efforts.
Jimi Hardin continues to rebuild his life. More than a year after the fire, he’s still cleaning up the lot and preparing to build a new home. But he says the experience of losing his home was not in vain. He wants to share his experience in order to educate others on the importance of having smoke alarms installed and a home fire escape plan in place.
"I think it’s really important that people understand the gravity of what can happen and how quickly it can happen,” said Hardin. "I’m just really grateful that we had met with the Red Cross earlier and for the service they provided. Thanks to the Red Cross, the escape plan was in the back of our minds when the fire happened.”
Hardin says he’s now a fan of the Red Cross for life.
“You guys are awesome,” Hardin said. “Just a beacon of light at the end of a dark tunnel. Thank you for being who you are and doing what you do.”