Christmas spirit alive on Livery Lane
Neighbors’ generosity has left a local couple counting their blessings in the midst of devastating loss.
Five thousand miles separated Doug and Dorothy DuSold from their 23 year-old daughter Cass at around 8:30 p.m. Oct. 9, when she narrowly escaped barefoot from their intensely burning New Market Township home.
The DuSolds had just landed in Rome for a long-planned vacation when Doug powered his cell phone and it came alive with text and voice messages from concerned neighbors.
Leading Dorothy from an airport line, Doug said, “First, nobody was hurt. Second, let’s sit down because it’s bad.”
“I never knew a fire could engulf a home that quickly,” said the DuSold’s Livery Lane neighbor Liz Shannon. “There were flames shooting up from the middle of the home and out of the roof.”
Next-door neighbor Cherie Browne said they did not know about the fire until Cass knocked on their door and asked them to keep her dog and cat while she and other neighbors searched for the family’s two other cats.
Cherie described the fire as “an inferno,” and said she heard glass windows breaking and blowing out from its force.
High winds fueled concerns that flames would spread to neighboring homes, all on several-acre lots, and the woods on Livery Lane, in the Ellingboe Estates subdivision, said Elko New Market Fire Chief Todd Friedges who had called in back-up support as he drove to the scene.
“I saw a glow in the sky, so I knew we had something big,” Friedges said.
He said when he arrived about four minutes after Cass’ 911 call, the back of the home was engulfed and flames were shooting 20 feet in the air.
“It was huge,” he said.
About 40-50 firefighters from Elko New Market, Lakeville, Prior Lake, New Prague and Burnsville would join to battle the toxic smoke and fire in the wind, and with intense heat dragging hose hundreds of yards up the rural driveway too narrow for trucks to travel.
“We were told that the firefighters were running back and forth to their trucks at a pace that had them falling to the ground for rest all the while dealing with intense heat and toxic smoke.” Doug wrote in a letter to Sun Thisweek. “The fire was extinguished and contained through heroic efforts. We don’t know how to adequately say thank you.”
Doug and Dorothy knew nothing of the intensity of the situation as they franticly arranged reservations on the quickest flight home.
Neighbors had not wanted to tell them too much over the phone, and concentrated on comforting the horrified Cass, who with the DuSold’s blessing, spent the night with the Shannons.
“Their main concern was their daughter,” Liz said. “Doug said houses are one thing, but I want you first and foremost to please take care of my daughter.”
Neighbors already were offering the Lakeville North graduate help and support.
“We were all reassuring Cassandra that it would be okay,” said Liz’s husband Frankie Shannon. “The neighbors began pulling together making sure she had clothes, was warm and cared for, had money and offered a place to stay so she had what she needed.”
Sometime during the early morning hours, Cass rescued her family’s second cat in a neighbor’s driveway.
Before leaving to a doctor appointment Liz had she make the next morning, Cass was also joyfully reunited with Loki, the family’s remaining cat that she had feared dead.
Liz and Cass rushed the frightened, waterlogged animal to the vet, and with oxygen, medical care and a shampoo to get the smoky smell out, Loki is now back to her legendary cantankerous self.
Then next day, neighbors brought food took Cass shopping for clothes and other necessities since she had run out of the house in her pajamas.
“She said she didn’t need anything,” Liz recalled. “We said, ‘Sweetie, you have no shoes.’”
Doug said seeing ashes left of the home they built in 1995 was “like a kick in the gut,” and they realized everything they owned was in the luggage they were carrying.
“When we got back, many neighbors saw us drive up,” Doug said. “They came over and gave us hugs. They asked if there was anything they could do. … There was a lot of conversations, and of course, everyone said we could stay with them. We said the insurance company was taking care of everything.”
Undaunted, neighbors purchased a portable storage unit for the family to store any belongings that were salvageable; among the most heartbreaking loss was photos and a baby grand piano Dorothy played.
“She is an exceptional piano player,” Frankie said.
At first, the DuSolds stayed at a hotel that accepted pets, but now the insurance company has moved them into the Lakeville condominium one of their neighbors offered them.
Neighbors also made the family had some Christmas cheer.
Mike and Cherie Browne hosted the neighborhood’s annual Christmas party last weekend, and each neighbor surprised the DuSolds with at least one special ornament.
“These are nice ornaments like you would have collected yourself over the years,” Doug said.
Lowell and Carrie Grimm gave them some porcelain bell ornaments that had been in their family for generations.
“As opposed to them all being brand new ornaments, we wanted to make sure people understood that ornaments on Christmas trees can be a reflection of family over time,” Lowell said.
Despite losing all their possessions, Doug said they are thankful that no lives were lost in the blaze, and humbly grateful for the firefighters work and the outpouring of support from their neighbors.
“What they have done changes our focus away from the disaster to the blessing of people around you,” Doug said.
In his letter, he added, “The people around us have shown us that there are far more valuable things than we lost in the fire and perhaps the greatest blessing of all is to have your eyes opened to the blessings around us.”
The couple is planning to rebuild on the same lot.
“Someone said ‘you’re empty nesters — you can go anywhere in the country and live,’” Doug said. “We talked about it, and this is the place we want to live. I can’t imagine a better neighborhood.”