Family hopes to rebuild after fire
Firefighters: Blaze too far advanced to save home
The Poje family was preparing for a relaxed night at home Feb. 10.
Bob was in the kitchen getting turkey ready for dinner and his wife, Cheryl, was changing clothes before their evening meal. Their son, Alan, and his wife, Jill, were playing with their child, Blake, on the living room floor. Alan's younger sister, Sara, also was on the floor playing with Blake when Alan mentioned that he smelled smoke.
Sara initially thought the smell was coming from the kitchen, but knew she had a candle burning downstairs and went to check it.
Unfortunately, the smell was coming from the candle.
When Sara went downstairs, she saw a fire patch that measured about 10 feet across. She then screamed to Alan that a fire had started.
"It was so fast," Sara said. "It went from I could see everything to complete blackness."
Sara followed her brother's voice into the garage. Alan initially tried to bring water downstairs, but the fire was too far along. The family eventually left the house out the front door and went to the garage to retrieve vehicles.
Bob and Alan put Bob's car in neutral and pushed it out of the garage. With the fire nearing, Sara backed her car out of the garage just in time, as debris landed on the hood.
Tonganoxie fire crews were called at 8:14 p.m. and arrived on scene three minutes later. The Tonganoxie Fire Auxiliary, Tonganoxie Police and the Red Cross also were on scene.
Although the trucks arrived minutes after getting the call, the fire eventually destroyed the entire house at 901 Somers. Tonganoxie Fire Chief Dave Bennett said the fire was frustrating, considering the department's quick response.
"Especially because we were at the station and really thought we'd get a jump on it," Bennett said. "We were just extremely shocked at the amount of fire when we got there."
Firefighters had to use a surround-and-drown strategy to combat the fire.
"We tried to go in right off the bat and it was just too much fire," Bennett said. "We used a defensive strategy with it and tried to hold it to that house."
Crews worked through the night until about 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. the next day. The candle later was determined as the cause of the fire.
After staying in a motel for the first four nights, Bob and Cheryl found an already-furnished apartment in Shawnee. Sara has been staying with friends for the time being and plans to eventually stay with her parents. Alan and Jill live in McLouth.
Sara, who coaches a national 18-year-old club volleyball team in Kansas City, was supposed to take her team to Las Vegas for a tournament this past weekend. She wanted to stay and help her family, but her parents urged her to go.
"They wanted me to go," Sara said. "They said there was nothing I could do here and my ticket had actually burned."
And Sara's players and their parents wanted her to make the trip. The parents pooled money together to buy Sara a new airline ticket. Sara left Friday and returned early Monday morning.
"They're great kids," she said.
Many people have assisted the Pojes during the last week. Sara said she didn't know how to thank everyone who had helped the family through a difficult time. From donating clothes and essentials to donating time to salvage items, many people have aided the family.
"We've been truly blessed with some great friends," Sara said.
Few things were salvageable from the house. Some pictures and other items were saved, but the family basically must start over.
The Pojes moved into the house in 1979. Alan was very young when the residence became their home.
And Sara, who is 21, had lived there all her life.
For Bob, the future is uncertain at this point, but the family will have a home again someday.
"I'm going to build some place," Bob said. "I'm not going to live in an apartment forever.
"I'm not sure what we're going to do. It's way too early."
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