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Rising from the ashes

Teenager recovers from the loss of home found aflame

Elaine+at+age+five+with+her+dog+Nemo.+Losing+many+belongings+in+the+fire%2C+this+was+one+of+the+photos+able+to+be+recovered.
Elaine at age five with her dog Nemo. Losing many belongings in the fire, this was one of the photos able to be recovered.

Elaine at age five with her dog Nemo. Losing many belongings in the fire, this was one of the photos able to be recovered.

Elaine at age five with her dog Nemo. Losing many belongings in the fire, this was one of the photos able to be recovered.

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It’s Aug. 26, and she had just arrived to the first home football game of the school year. The game had just kicked off, marking the start of another football season. She checked her phone and, all of a sudden, a Snapchat and numerous missed calls from a neighbor who she hadn’t talked to in years caught her attention.

Senior Elaine Rabalais opened up the Snapchat to see exploding amounts of smoke coming out from the chimney and windows of her house. Stunned and filled with confusion, she returned her neighbor’s urgent calls as quickly as she could.

The Rabalais family came home to see that a fire had destroyed their home. The structure was unaffected, but the inside of the house was damaged. The family lost many of their belongings and their pets.

“I was dumbfounded,” Elaine said. “My friend who I haven’t spoken to [in] years since middle school Snapchatted me saying, ‘Elaine call me please your house is on fire.’ I was screaming at him saying to go to my house and to go get my dad. He said he saw my dad and got me on the phone with him and said everything was fine. I didn’t know if anybody was home or not. I didn’t know anything at all, so my dad kept texting me and said everything was fine and they didn’t want me to come home, but I had to be there.”

Elaine’s parents were the first to hear the news. On their way back from picking up dinner, they saw many people and a firetruck on their street. Thinking the firetruck was at their neighbor’s house, they were shocked to see that it was in front of their own home.

“I parked in the middle of the street and ran into the house,” Elaine’s mother, Laura Rabalais said. ”Our neighbor took us in tried to figure out what was going with our pets. I did see them trying to rescue the pets. I kept going outside; the firemen were amazing and they kept asking if we’re okay when we were the ones outside and they were the ones inside risking their lives for us and our pets. They were trying as hard as they could. It was a night of chaos.”

Elaine’s parents knew they had to contact their children because they didn’t want them to come home without knowing what was going on. Elaine’s mother contacted her eldest son Jared first and was hesitant to tell Elaine. However, Elaine was the find out first through social media and had contacted her mother first. Makayla Park, one of Elaine’s closest friends was there with her when she had found out the news.

“Word got to Elaine through social media,” Laura said. “That’s when [Park] drove fast as a rocketship to bring Elaine home as quickly as she could. Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to them coming home because it’s not something you want your kids to see, but I knew they had to be there.”

Park sped as fast as she could, turning a 15 minute drive from the Colony High School to Rabalais’s house into a record-breaking five-minute dash.

“My initial reaction was to take Elaine to her house,” Park said. “I put my hazards on and got her there as soon as possible and was by her side trying to comfort her until I had to leave and make sure she had others there for her. Elaine was devastated, and out of the 14 years I’ve known her I’ve never seen her cry so hard.”

Once Elaine found herself in front of her home, she caught herself in a whirlwind of emotions.

“When I got there, [Park] had to park down the street because my house was flooded with people,” Elaine said. “They’re so curious because you don’t think that’s going to happen to somebody, but it does and you just don’t know what to do. I was sprinting, I don’t think I’ve ever ran so fast in my life. I’m screaming after my mom, sobbing and my legs are shaking. I could barely run, yet somehow I did it.”

The unexpected fire, which occurred on a day full of storms, brought the family to think at first that lightning had struck the house. However, it was really a shortage in their kitchen caused by their toaster that ignited the fire. It first spread to Rabalais’s backpack and camera, which caused the kitchen to go up into flames. The fire not only destroyed the kitchen, but accounted for a loss of many of their belongings.

The fire tore apart the Rabalais's kitchen completely.

The fire tore apart the Rabalais’s kitchen completely.

“When you look at it from the outside it looks like a perfectly normal house,” Elaine said. “The structure isn’t affected one bit, but the kitchen was totaled. It looks gross and it’s a lot worse in person, it’s just awful. It looks like a tornado ripped through it. We lost everything electrical in our house from laptops [to] cameras.”

Other than all of the replaceable items that were in the house, Elaine had the hardest time with the irreplaceable things she had lost: her pets. Elaine was hurt the most by the fact they received everything they could have needed, oxygen and multiple attempts of CPR, but the treatment couldn’t revive the dogs.

“One of the firemen met me and pushed me away,” Elaine said. “It’s exactly like you see in the movies, and when I got there, I saw my dogs in body bags. My fur babies getting taken away from me was so hard. That’s the part I’m having trouble with the most. You think you have them forever and you don’t; they’re your best friends. I’ve had these dogs since I was very young.”

Elaine losing some of the most important things in her life along with the house and its many memories created a painful time. However, in these times Elaine and her family found a growing support from the faculty and students at school, as well as her closest friends junior Zain Karim and junior Micaela Sonier. When they first heard the news during the football game, they quickly came together to help Elaine and her family.

Elaine and friend Zain hanging out together.

Elaine and friend Zain hanging out together.

“To be completely honest, I thought she was just messing with me,” Karim said. “I kept asking her ‘are you sure you’re telling the truth’ almost jokingly, but then she started crying and I realized she wasn’t. My friend Micaela who was with me at the game took me over to Elaine’s house. The entire street smelled of smoke. I found her sitting by herself after talking to her parents who were visibly devastated. Micaela and I comforted her, and a few minutes later I started the GoFundMe. We’ve raised about 1000 dollars, including a generous 500 from [principal Scot] Finch.”

According to Elaine, the support she has received has made her able to see the brighter side of things. She is not only happy but thankful for a continuous stream of support that has been given to her and her family.

“It changed my life a lot, but my life is getting better,” Elaine said. “I have a greater appreciation for the small things in life. It’s just so nice because I haven’t been going to Hebron for a very long time. They treated me like I’ve been there forever and have been so extraordinarily nice. I couldn’t be more thankful for what they have been doing for me. They went above and beyond with helping me. Honestly, I can’t believe that Hebron would do all of this for me and I have to give a big thank you to [counselor] Mrs.[Kim] Clingan, Finch, and the rest of the Hebron staff.”

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Rising from the ashes