Sioux Falls, SD
If you drive west on Highway 38, outside of Sioux Falls, you will see what is left of one family's dream home in the country. Early Sunday morning, a fire spread from the garage to the kitchen, and ultimately destroyed Jeremy and Rebekah Schelhaas's house.
"Where do we start? What do we do first?" Rebekah said.
She and her husband have begun the long process of digging through timber and toys, piled up in their front yard. They are trying to see what they can, or if they can, salvage anything. On Sunday, a smoke detector woke them up to flames spreading from the garage to the kitchen. They said an electric heater in the garage started the fire. They grabbed shoes and coats and rushed outside with their children: Mackenzie, Brianna and Michah, as well as Rebekah's sister, Michelle. Jeremy and Rebekah did not even have time to grab their driver's licenses.
"You're not thinking. It's all adrenaline. Adrenaline and autopilot. There's not, 'We should try to save this; try to save that.' All it is is, 'Try to get the kids out,'" Jeremy said.
The house is destroyed. Pictures are in ashes. Memories are gone.
"Everything else here can be replaced. The important things, people, got out of the house. That's all that matters," Jeremy said.
Thankfully, the whole family is safe because they were prepared. Beyond smoke detectors, the parents made a fire safety plan and taught their children to follow it in case of emergency. They had just reviewed the plan right before the fire because of their daughter's school project.
"She had to draw an exit plan for a fire out of the house. Two different directions from every bedroom," Rebekah said. "You need to take that step and you need to do it today because you don't have another chance. If that smoke detector didn't go off, we wouldn't be here today."
Smoke detectors and safety plans might not seem like a big deal before this happens to you, but even the smallest steps can save your life, and your children's lives, in a moment.
"It's just the greatest thing a mom could ever want. I can hug them. I can kiss them. They're going to be here another day. It's a blessing," Rebekah said.
A Schelhaas Family Fund is set up at U.S. Bank. You can donate at any location in Sioux Falls.