by Jim Boyle
Shane Schminkey, a drywaller who grew up in Elk River and returned to his childhood home this past winter, still wonders what if things happened differently.
What if his family kept its original plans to go camping this past weekend? What if he decided to stay inside his house this past Saturday night and not wash his work truck? And what if after he welcomed his wife, Carrie, and daughter, Kailee, home when they pulled up in their driveway sometime after midnight he turned toward their house and not the street?
That’s when he saw an orange glow through a stand of trees that blocks his view of Barbara Jones’ house.
“Holy buckets somebody has a big fire,” he recalls saying aloud to himself as we walked toward the street. “Then I saw it.”
His neighbor’s roof was ablaze. “The flames coming off her roof were 20 feet tall,” he recounted for the Star News.
Kari dialed 911 and Shane ran toward the burning home.
“I started screaming from the top of my lungs before I even got to the door,” he said. “I figured every second counts. I thought I was going to find a dead body.”
To his surprise when he got the door open, there was no fire or no smoke inside the house until he heard the crush of breaking glass from a rear window.
Then the smoke rolled in along the ceiling. He screamed even louder as he entered. “Your house is on fire! You need to get out! You need to get out of the house! Your house is on fire!”
Jones emerged from her bedroom, awakened from the screams and not the shrill of smoke alarms that were going off.
“She looked stunned,” Schminkey recalls.
“I was very disoriented,” Jones told the Star News as her ears soaked in the sound of Shane’s voice, the smoke alarms and what looked initially to her like the clean house she had left upon retiring to bed. As it soaked in, she was greeted by the smell of fire and Shane’s continued screams.
In the madness she ran downstairs to look for her 16-year-old son, who she had forgotten had left with his girlfriend earlier to go look for the meteor showers they had heard was coming.
By then Kailee had entered, and the seconds slowly ticked by and they got out.
Several days later, there’s still some disbelief but mostly a mixture of pain and thankfulness.
“If it wasn’t for Shane’s screeching voice and pounding my door down to get in, I wouldn’t have made it out,” she says. “Two minutes and my life would have been gone. I owe him so much.”
She’s told Shane as much, but he’s told her “You owe me nothing.
“It was instinct,” he said. “There’s people in that house. You have got to get them out. I would have run through flames. I thank God for how things turned out.”
Elk River Police and Fire were called out to the home at 12:28 a.m. Sunday to the 18800 block of Zumbro Avenue. They arrived to a fully involved fire knowing the homeowner had evacuated but a juvenile male was unaccounted for.
That was until Barb Jones called his cell phone.
“Jake, the house is on fire, please tell me you’re OK,” she recalled saying on the line.
He replied: “Mom, remember I was going to watch meteor showers.”
He came home then.
The smoke, fire and the water used to extinguish the blaze destroyed everything in the home. Most difficult to take are the pictures of her five kids growing up are gone, as well as the things she got from her grandmothers on both her mother’s and father’s side after they died.
“I don’t have anything left,” she said. “And if the fire department didn’t take a half-hour getting here maybe some of my things could have been saved.”
She stays away from the home as much as she can now, saying its too painful.
The family lost a pet in the fire. It was a cat that Jake had gotten after its mother was hit by a car and killed when Barb was going through a divorce.
“Jake’s devastated,” she said. “I think even more so than I am.”
The outpouring of support she and her family has gotten from neighbors and her church have, however, been overwhelming in a positive way, she says.
“I can’t believe the outpouring of people we don’t even know,” she said. “I’m thankful for everyone who has come forward to help.
“I’m also thankful my son and I didn’t perish. Make sure people know that man (Shane) saved my life.”
The fire remains under investigation, according to Elk River Fire Chief John Cunningham. He did add, however, the fire is believed to be accidental.
The Red Cross put the family up for a few nights, and Barb and Jake planned to stay with her fiancé’s family this weekend. The next step will be to move into a trailer the Schminkeys are lending them.
“That will be my home until my home is rebuilt,” Barb said.