On the morning of Aug. 21, 2017, Becca Gordon-Ross and her sister, Emily, woke up to a loud noise from the storm brewing outside their family home. Thinking nothing of it, they went back to sleep.
Not much later, their mother woke them up in a hurry: their house was on fire.
A year later, Becca Gordon-Ross, a freshman English education major at Emporia State, has finally recovered from the loss of their family home and the emotional trauma of realizing she didn’t have a home or many of the things she once owned.
By the time Becca and Emily had gotten out of bed, the fire had grown so much that the smoke reached their bedroom.
“The day after (the eclipse), like 3 a.m., there was this big storm in Lawrence (and) a bit of lightning hit our electrical box (which) started a fire,” Emily said. “Funny bit about that, my sister and I, our room is above the garage, right where our electrical box was on the outside wall. We both heard the boom and we both woke up, but our immediate thoughts were ‘Fuck no, I have to get up at five in the morning, we’re not dealing with this,’ so we went back to sleep.”
Later on, they awoke to the fire alarm going off and their mom waking everybody up.
In total, the family is comprised of seven people: two parents and five kids, Becca being the oldest. Becca said everyone, including their cats, made it out safely.
Kathleen Gordon-Ross, Becca’s mom, said that in the moment, she was just worried about getting everyone safe and calming everyone down.
“Initially it was just trying to get everybody out, trying to figure what was wrong, trying to keep everyone calm and reassured that things we’re going to be just fine,” Kathleen said. “Those were the main concerns.”
After making it out of their house and calling 911, they made their way to their grandparents house for the rest of the night.
“My mom didn’t have her phone,” Becca said. “My sister and I, our phones were by our backpacks charging and my brother was the only one with a cell phone. We called 911. We explained what was going on. The fire department shows up and they’re basically just like ‘You’re in our way, go away,’ so we (went) to our grandparents house.”
Knowing that everyone was safe, things began to settle down. The home had been in the family for about 15 years, according to Kathleen. It had spent seven years in the ownership of Becca’s grandparents and then in 2010, they sold the home to Becca’s family of seven, Kathleen said.
“Those first two weeks it was very traumatic because, for me, I kept realizing all this stuff, just how much stuff there was,” Becca said. “(We were) going through and sorting through everything and what were we gonna keep, what were we gonna try and save, what were we going to throw out...I probably cried off-and-on for about two weeks.”
In dealing with the aftermath of the fire, Becca reached out to Nikki McCollum, a close friend.
“I was the first person she called after work to tell me that she’d been in a house fire,” McCollum said. “I very much played the support role and kind of gave her comfort and love as much as I could.”
While they waited for their home, which they call the “crispy house,” to be cleared and rebuilt, they moved around several times.
In the months following, the Gordon-Ross family knew they had a safety net through friends, family and insurance. However, this didn’t change that their journey would be a long and stressful one.
They started off at their grandparents for a couple of months, and then moved to a rental house provided by insurance, which they called the “timeshare,” and lived there for almost the rest of the year.
On Aug. 21, 2018, the “crispy house” was ready for them to move back in. At that point, Becca had already moved into the dorms here at ESU, but she’s still been a crucial part to moving back into their home.
“We moved back into the house and are in the process of unpacking everything, (we moved in) a year after the fire, to the day,” Becca said. “It was not lost on any of us, but it was just a very long ongoing process.”
Throughout this process, Kathleen said that they’ve have to go through and get rid of a lot of things. Her hope is that her family will be more understanding of those who go through similar hardships.
“We’re still not completely out of it, I’m hoping that by the time we really come to the other side of this experience, that my...family will be stewards of their resources,” Kathleen said. “I also hope that they’ll be more compassionate in the wake of other people experiences. It was humbling and it was overwhelming to watch their peers reach out to them and show love and support in the aftermath of their experience.”