LAKEWOOD – Woody Sherwood was watching his house burn when his wife, Misty, suddenly pushed by him and ran to their front yard. She saw three white sheets. Their beloved cats and dog were motionless underneath. They had died in the blaze.
She collapsed to her knees and sobbed.
Their rottweiller mix, Tigger, wasn’t doing well either. He was wrapped in a blanket, wearing an oxygen mask.
They couldn’t do anything about their house and possessions, or their other animals, but they could try to save Tigger. They rushed him to an emergency veterinarian clinic in Everett. Tuesday night, they picked him up, to the delight of the couple and their three young children.
“All that matters is the family’s safe,” Woody said.
Since the fire last Friday afternoon, there has been an outpouring of love from the community. One of the best gifts came from Woody’s boss of just a few weeks at Absolute Manufacturing in Arlington, where he is a quality engineer. His new boss said he would pay Tigger’s vet bills, which Woody said must have cost thousands of dollars.
Woody said when he found out he was so choked up that he had to tell his wife by writing it down on a napkin.
“I held it together on the phone, but then I started bawling,” he said. “It took me four or five minutes to find my voice.”
His boss also said, “Come back to work when you’re ready,” Woody said.
He added that many of his co-workers have donated money and personal time off.
“It’s very family oriented,” Woody said of his workplace of 125 employees.
Also helping out right away was the Red Cross. Woody said they were given a gift card of $1,300 for emergency shelter and food, along with a voucher for the Goodwill. They stayed in a hotel the first few days, but started looking for a rental midweek.
A brother set up a GoFundMe account online. The goal was $2,500. Within 36 hours, the account had brought in $1,000 more than the goal.
A number of people have invited them to dinner and to sleep at their homes. One even volunteered to take their kids, ages 9, 6 and 4, to the movies.
Their church, LIFEchurch360 at Smokey Point, and their old church, Hillside in Marysville, also have pitched in.
“It’s been a roller coaster – the love from people and the crushing devastation that we lost everything we own,” Woody said.
Both Misty and Woody said the fire has given them a new outlook on life.
“In an instant it all can be gone,” she said.
Woody said he feels the need to help others.
“We need to find out what people need our help. What our outreach is,” he said.
Woody said they need to simplify their lives. He wants to spend more quality time with his family, playing board games and getting out and doing things, rather than taking so much time doing things like cleaning house.
“We need to purge stuff. We’re thrift store junkies,” he said.
The couple said the kids are doing well, after the initial shock. Woody said he met them at the bus stop after school, and they could tell something was wrong.
“I just want to hug you for a second,” he said to them. When he then told them about the fire and the pets dying, he had to carry one distraught child home.
But in general, “The kids are handling it better than we are,” Misty said.
They know the loss of housing is only temporary, and like staying in a hotel because it reminds them of vacation. The older two are going to Lakewood schools, and the youngest is upset about the loss of his new Christmas toys.
The fire started when Woody was at work, the kids were in school, and Misty was out on errands with her mom. The fire inspector told them it looks like it started in the kitchen. They think one of the dogs jumped on the stove to try to get leftover dessert, turning on a burner. The fire moved into the cabinets, then into the attic. Woody called the homes, built in 1969, “cookie cutter, cheap as can be.”
“Firefighters didn’t stand a chance” to contain it, he said. “They had to pull back” when the blaze contacted with the aluminum wiring.
The Sherwoods haven’t been able to salvage much. Even their Keurig melted.
Misty found a trinket that was her great grandmother’s. And they found the corner moulding where they had marked their children’s growth over the years. “That was a gift from the Lord right there,” Woody said. “Everything else was in shambles.”
They love contemporary Christian music. They have been a couple of times to Joshua Fest in Quincy, Calif., for concerts. They were able to save some autographed memorabilia from that.
“Most of it is just stuff,” Woody said. “The Lord was looking out for us.”
Woody said when he got into his car after the fire the song “Praise You in the Storm” was on the radio.
“That was me right there,” he said. “I sang my guts out.
“I don’t know what the future is. Our lives are in shambles. But it’s God’s plan. I don’t understand why. I have lots of questions.”
The Sherwoods have some concerns they would like to share with others.
One is aluminum wiring. The entire development they live in has it. They’ve had problems with it all six years they have lived there. When they bought the place, the home inspector acted like it was no big deal, Misty said. But they since have found out it’s dangerous. In a friend’s house, there was a fire in their baby room a few years ago at Christmas.
The other thing they want to warn people about is restoration companies that are ambulance chasers. They said one such firm was in their face trying to get them to sign a contract as they were still watching firefighters at work.
“They try to take advantage of the situation,” Misty said, adding she was horrified when one of them dropped a ladder on the sheets covering her pets.
“That’s my family,” she said, tears evident in her eyes.
Despite that, they did hire the company to board up their home because it needed to be done, and they were right there.
Tuesday, Woody was at the house most of the day with insurance representatives. He made three crosses for the pets.
That night, at the Hillside Church, the Sherwoods were eating dinner, when a homeless guy came in looking for help. Woody was just about to go pick up Tigger from the vet, but he put that on hold to help. He drove to his burned out home, got into his shed, and brought back some camping supplies for the homeless man.
“This is a lesson in gratitude,” Misty said. “We have a roof over our heads. It’s surreal being homeless. We know how it feels.”
Woody returned to the one-story yellow house off Fire Trail Road Thursday. The front of the house is intact. Christmas lights still dangle from the gutters. Bird feeders adorn a tree in the front yard. Inside, pictures of the family hang on almost every wall. A drum set and some guitars still look in good shape in the family room.
But the place is covered with insulation. Holes are in the roof where firefighters had done their work. Ashes covered the floors. It still smelled of dense smoke almost a week after the blaze. The kitchen was pitch black.
In the back yard, all kinds of play toys, including a trampoline and a fort, looked lonely without the kids around. Back near the fence were the three freshly dug graves with the crosses.
Woody said the GoFundMe account is still open if people would like to help.
“You really want to help us?” he said. “Take care of your brother. Don’t judge. We all need help sometime.”