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Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Fire in Old North St. Louis -- Please help.

On Sunday, there was a big house fire in our neighborhood, just a couple of blocks from our house. I didn't see it, but Michael and some of our neighbors did, and described the scene to me. When I got home in the evening, I turned on the news and saw that familiar building, with flames several feet high leaping up out of what used to be windows. I've not yet seen the building in daylight, but when we went by at night, I could see the dark sky through the blackened roof.

The family survived. They all got out alright. That's the most important thing.

One adult cat died and several kittens are unaccounted for, but all the birds and dogs survived, and there are a good eight or nine kittens staying at a neighbor's rehab house.

The family lost everything except the surviving pets and the clothes on their backs. They didn't have insurance. The Red Cross has been putting them up in a hotel for the time being.

The first floor of the house looks like it might not be too damaged, but a section of the side gable roof fell in onto the second floor and took a few bricks along with it. The building is not habitable. Sadly, the family did not have insurance.

Besides the tragedy of the family losing their home, several pets, and their belongings, there is a sad side to this architecturally: That fire happened on the very last intact block of Old North. That was the last block in ONSL which has never had a single demolition (despite a recent narrow brush with big-time speculators Blairmont LC), retaining some very early buildings. This is significant, considering the degree of loss here--ONSL is a very old neighborhood just outside of the very core of an older, industrial American city, so it's had a lot of demolition over the years.

If one could possibly take anything positive from this, it's that the neighborhood has done a good job of helping. The scene I've heard described was one of everybody trying to help--neighbors were out in decidedly non-winter clothes, holding onto rescued dogs, blow-drying wet kittens, arranging temporary homes for the pets, and watching neighboring buildings in case the flames spread. A friend of mine from South City who was sent to help at the fire through her volunteer work with the Red Cross said that folks from the neighborhood group approached her to coordinate the neighborhood response with that of the Red Cross. She said, "You guys are very lucky to have such a great group." And, of course, if any neighborhood can bring back an injured building, ONSL can. The damage on this house pales in comparison to that of others that are being saved in the North Market Place development. I hope that we can come up with a plan to bring this building back.

If you would like to help the family, there are several ways you can contribute. You can drop off donations at the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group office. We're assuming that the family had a total loss, so anything you could bring would help. Blankets, clothing for larger sizes (men's, women's, and young women's), toiletries, nonperishable food, and other household items would all help. If you would like to donate money, you can bring a check to the Restoration Group office or mail it there. Make the check out to "Old North St. Louis Restoration Group," and in the memo field write "ONSL Fire." The Group is going to pool all of the money donated for the family, and write them one big check with the total amount.

The ONSL Office is located 2800 N. 14th, St. Louis, MO 63107 (directly across the street from Crown Candy). The #30 Soulard bus stops at that corner, and the #74 Florissant bus stops a couple of blocks away at Florissant and Saint Louis. They are open from 9-5, M-F. (If you have some stuff you'd like to give but can't make it then, drop us an e-mail [eoa-at-eco-absence.org] and we can figure out a time for you to drop stuff off with us to pass along to the Group when they're open.)

Please consider donating a little something to the family, if you can. They've lost everything, and it's awfully cold this time of year.

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