Starting the New Year with nothing

Former West High graduate lost everything in a New Year’s Eve apartment fire.

Jennifer+Craig+and+Dante+the+dog+pose+for+a+photo+on+Sunday%2C+Jan+13.+at+their+new+house%2C+bought+on+Saturday%2C+Jan+12.
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Starting the New Year with nothing

Jennifer Craig and Dante the dog pose for a photo on Sunday, Jan 13. at their new house, bought on Saturday, Jan 12.

Jennifer Craig and Dante the dog pose for a photo on Sunday, Jan 13. at their new house, bought on Saturday, Jan 12.

Gwen Watson

Jennifer Craig and Dante the dog pose for a photo on Sunday, Jan 13. at their new house, bought on Saturday, Jan 12.

Gwen Watson

Gwen Watson

Jennifer Craig and Dante the dog pose for a photo on Sunday, Jan 13. at their new house, bought on Saturday, Jan 12.

Jennifer Craig ‘06 drove down the street with her three-year-old daughter and her sister, Aislin Craig ‘21. They were happily on their way back to her new apartment with the last load of boxes. Then, Jennifer received a call from her daughter’s father.

“He gives me a call and he says, ‘There’s all this commotion out front … There’s police, there’s [the] fire department, there’s a whole bunch of stuff and they’re outside our apartment.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ So he hands the phone over and they asked me, ‘Do you live at this residence?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he goes, ‘There’s been a fire.’ I tried to ask them how bad it was, [and] he says ‘We’ll just talk to you when you get here,’” said Jennifer.

Aislin was with her sister when she got the call, but could only hear part of the conversation.

“I couldn’t really understand what they were saying,” Aislin said. “She was handed over to the firefighter and she asked him ‘There was a fire?’ and I freaked out and called my mom.”

They arrived at the apartment, worried about the condition of their home and the well-being of the animals that had been inside. Luckily, no one was injured. Nonetheless, it was a harrowing situation.

The fire was contained to the kitchen by the firefighters, but even so, everything in the house was destroyed from either smoke or fire damage.

[I thought] it couldn’t be my place. You think it’s one of those things that could never happen.”

— Jennifer Craig '06

“[I thought] it couldn’t be my place. You think it’s one of those things that could never happen,” Jennifer said. “Fires are one of my worst fears. I actually had a friend who lost her entire house to a fire. So you try and be aware of that, and it just happens. It’s crazy. I [had] so many things running through my head.”

Once the firefighters checked the structure of the apartment, Jennifer and her family were escorted in to grab clothes. They were told that they would not be able to come back for several days. Anything they took out had to be washed or cleaned because of the smoke.

“[The] power was off,” Jennifer said. “When they come in they’re trying to put the fire out and look for life. So you see all your stuff, it’s wet, it’s thrown everywhere, it’s just a mess.”

After the fire, Jennifer and her daughter went to Jennifer’s parents’ house and stayed there for a week. She was able to reach out to the Red Cross and received $545 in emergency funds. Jennifer used the money as a deposit for her new house, which she bought on Jan. 12, 2019. The family also reached out to Houses Into Homes, an Iowa City-based organization that helps families receive large furniture items. Jennifer got a couch and a mattress from the organization.

When they come in they’re trying to put the fire out and look for life. So you see all your stuff, it’s wet, it’s thrown everywhere, it’s just a mess.”

— Jennifer Craig '06

“I have met so many people … who have lost a lot of stuff to fires,” Jennifer said. “[You need to] make sure your fire detectors work. Make sure you have fire safety, make sure you unplug stuff. You can never be too safe, especially when you have kids in the house.”

Jennifer’s three-year-old daughter, Rosa, took the fire hard. Moving to the new apartment had been rough on her already, and the fire was difficult for her to understand.

“We’ve been completely thrown off of our schedule, especially when you have a three-year-old. She’s very routine, and it has completely rocked her world,” Jennifer said. “That, I think, was the hardest part. She was sitting there right after the fire … and crying because she wants to go home. She was pointing up at the place [saying] ‘Mommy I want to go home.’”

After the fire, the fire department gave Jennifer advice on how to prevent fires.

“The one piece of advice that we did get from the fire department is to sleep with your doors shut. It actually puts minutes on to [your time to escape],” Jennifer said. “And in the unfortunate event that it does happen, what you lose is material, you can replace that.”

The source of the fire was the stove, although it is unknown if it was due to electrical problems or if the stove was left on. If Jennifer’s landlord deems the cause neglect, she might have to pay for the damages. As of now, however, Jennifer is receiving donations through the main office and a GoFundMe which will go towards replacing her possessions.

“The only thing that we don’t really have right now [is] the kitchen appliances, just little things like toasters … You don’t think about it until you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right. I don’t have that anymore,’” Jennifer said. “We have basic necessities now. But for my daughter, mainly, she lost all her toys.”

You don’t think about it until you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right. I don’t have that anymore.’”

— Jennifer Craig '06

After Winter Break, Aislin contacted Dr. Shoultz about the fire. He got her in contact with Jamie Schneider and John Roarick, the Student Family Advocates at West, who started raising awareness around the school by emailing teachers about donations. Local store gift cards and cash donations can be given to Becky Peterson in the main office.

“People can definitely reach out to John or me if they have other things at their house that they were already going to donate anyway,” said Jamie Schneider. “And we can always ask Jennifer and see if it’s something that she is in need of.”

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