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Victims of house fire met with outpouring of support

Victims of house fire met with outpouring of support

Family of five lost home near Chapman last Wednesday


In the days following a house fire last week near Chapman, many people stepped up to help Jeff Thomas and his family.

“The community has surrounded us, and we feel completely blessed,” Thomas said Monday. “Words can’t express the love that we feel. We’re just glad that we live where we do, and we have the family and the friends and the community that we do.”

Thomas and his wife, Abby, owned the house that was destroyed early last Wednesday morning about three miles south of Highway 30. Their two children and Thomas’ grandmother lived in the house. No one was injured.

The family is staying at the home of Thomas’ mother and father, which is about a mile and a half from the family’s home.

“We’re working on trying to get a camper or something so we can be at the site while we rebuild,” he said.

If not for the snow falling on the area, he would have been doing cleanup at the site Monday.

The house was a complete loss. “It’s just kind of scorched earth over there,” Thomas said. Two vehicles were “burned-out shells” after the blaze. Thomas is waiting to hear back from his insurance company on the status of a third vehicle, his pickup.

One of his neighbors has set up a GoFundMe page for the Thomas site. To contribute, visit

As of Monday, $3,325 had been raised toward a $5,000 goal.

The Thomases have two children:נa 7-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl.

Thomas would like to give “a big thank you to everyone who’s done anything for us.”

What have folks done?

“There’s been donations of clothing and money, household items, toiletries, gift cards, food, letters of hope,” he said.

His grandmother, an avid quilter, lost probably more than 30 handmade quilts. “And so she lost quite a bit in this fire, too,” Thomas said.

Her friends are throwing quilting showers for her “and trying to gather up things for her,” he said.

His grandmother has lived there a long time. “It used to be her home place, and then two years ago my wife and I bought it from her.” Thomas said.

She thought it was great “that she got to live with her great-grandchildren. We were one big happy family in there.”

Thomas and his brother went through the rubble on Saturday, looking for their grandmother’s jewelry. The items they did find were ruined. “It’s just a complete loss,” he said.

Thomas isn’t overwhelmed just by the sense of security the community has given him.

“It’s also overwhelming the amount of things that need to be done now, because your life is completely erased. We lost everything נour car keys, our wallets, our purses, phones, debit cards, tablets, computers, all of our personal papers, files, bills.”

They don’t even know which bills need to be paid.

“That’s half a day right there נjust calling everybody and finding out what the status of our bills are.”

It’s a lot for his family to take, he said. “We’ve lost our home and everything else. It’s been tough.”

The fire started at about 3 a.m. The 6-year-old girl was the one who alerted everyone else to the fire.

It was incorrectly reported last week that Thomas smashed a car window to get his cellphone.

“I actually broke my bedroom window out so that I could reach in. I sleep next to a window, and my phone was on the headboard charging,” he said.

Thomas picked up a log from the yard to break the window.

The broken car window “was actually from an oxygen tank that had exploded out of my grandmother’s car.”

It’s believed that the fire started inside a cat house, which was about 3 feet from the house. It wasn’t a big structure, he said. “It was just kind of almost like a little doghouse.”

The three cats inside survived. They are farm cats that are up for adoption.

“We still have them. We’re feeding them,” he said. They’re staying warm inside a shed.

In rebuilding their lives, the family has to make “a lot of really, smart sound decisions” quickly, he said.

Thomas says it’s awesome what friends, family and the community have “done for us, just to get us through the first couple of weeks, so we can kind of start to get things figured out. It’s pretty amazing.”

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As I sit here in my home on a brutally frigid Sunday morning listening to the KNVL Polka Show, I am transported back to another place and time. My mind wanders back to the countless Whoopi John requests that we would enjoy on our road trip to see one of our all-time favorite priests, Father James Murphy. We were on our way up to Mass in Ericson where he was always waiting to give us a big hug and a smile.

Father Murphy died Jan. 21 at the age of 94.

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