EDITOR'S COLUMN | Outshine flames with compassion, giving

The best thing about living in a small community is that everyone knows everyone. It’s also the worst thing about living in a small community, because when tragedy strikes it seems to touch us all.

Many know Jan Quade, who lost her home of over 30 years to a fire on Tuesday. The lifelong South Whidbey resident left for Bible study and returned a few hours later to a house engulfed in flames.

As a reporter, I’ve covered a handful of house fires over my career, and each one seems worse than the last. Although I didn’t personally know Quade before this week, I recognized her look of shock, disbelief and uncertainty as she watched her home burn.

Merciless and terrifying, house fires strike when least expected, and with devastating effect. South Whidbey Fire/EMS firefighters, composed mainly of courageous and self-sacrificing community volunteers, fought the blaze for hours, but Quade’s home and everything inside was completely destroyed.

All that remains is an adjacent workshop, her car and the clothes she had on her back at the time.

The gravity of such a loss is difficult to contemplate, and I doubt those who haven’t survived such a calamity can truly know what it feels like to stand in Quade’s shoes — her only shoes.

Family heirlooms, pictures of the kids — all treasures gone forever. And the sting is surely made worse by little things often taken for granted. Quade is staying with family, but she went there that first night with nothing. Her pajamas, the familiar book by her bedside, even her toothbrush; all of it was consumed in one terrible afternoon.

Having spent a lifetime on South Whidbey, Quade is well known and many are now eager to help. A garage sale and bake sale will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 3, at Whidbey Telecom. For details, see page 20.

An account, the Jan Quade Burn Fund, has also been set up at Whidbey Island Bank. Donating is easy, requiring only a visit to one of several branches on the South End.

Fires are awful. They wrench from us so much, but we as a community have the power to outshine their flames with our compassion and generosity. Don’t forget Jan Quade this week as she begins to rebuild all that she has lost.

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