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REBUILDING A LIFE: Flood of kind acts follows fire disaster

Maeta Henrikson sits among her belongings following a July 1 fire. The 86-year-old said she’s thankful for community support, and appreciates her German sherpard, Compass.ERIN TIERNEY/PHOTOS

“I didn’t get to grow a garden this year,” Maeta Henrikson said as she kicked up the soot and ashes in what used to be her green backyard at 30082 Fox Hollow Road. 

In the heat of the Oregon summer, in the middle of a pandemic, Maeta and her family’s house burned to the ground. It’s all gone now — the garden, the grass, the house, the cars, the workshop.

It was an insidious rogue spark from metal in the workshop that ignited a fire on July 1, destroying everything on the six-acre property. The family’s manufactured home, a trailer used for automobile storage, a car and a workshop building, all gone.

She didn’t even have shoes on her feet when she fled from the flames.

It’s been two months since the fire. It’s quiet and hot with a calmness on the property. While her sons Rick Kruit, 61, and Frank Kruit, 56, are at work, Maeta sits outside of her makeshift home, a recreation vehicle that’s seen better days; nonetheless, it keeps a roof over her head, albeit leaky. Heat lines rise from the debris of twisted, charred metals baking in the sun on the parameters of the property — residual collateral from the fire that turned their lives upside down not so long ago.

Frank was doing some metalwork in the workshop. He finished up about 10 p.m. and went inside to relax and watch TV. It was about a half an hour later before he saw the flames … and by then, everything was already mostly burned up,” he said.

“I ran out of the house wearing one sock and shorts. My mom didn’t have her teeth, her hearing aids or her glasses on. There was no time to do anything. Within 10 minutes of evacuating, everything we owned was completely gone,” Frank said. 

That night of the fire, Maeta stayed with family in Veneta, and Frank and Rick searched for a hotel to stay in. 

“We went to six different places before we ended up just sleeping in my work truck. Hotels weren’t taking anyone because of the pandemic,” Frank said. “Luckily, my work truck was saved. We had to stand there and watch my mom’s car burn because there was nothing we could do; the keys were in the house,” Frank said.

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The next day, a woman from Imperial Floors, where Frank works, donated a motorhome. Now Maeta and Frank are living in the RV while Rick sleeps in his car. 

A plank of wood propped up on an old table outside of the motorhome serves as the kitchen. On it, cleaning products and dishes are stacked, and an industrial-sized bucket serves as the sink. 

“We’ve been staying safe so far, though of course now we can’t just wash our hands like we used to,” she said as she adjusts the fabric mask on her face. Thankfully, she said, a neighbor on the adjoining property hooked up temporary electricity and water and another neighbor lets them use their outdoor shower. 

Yes, it’s been a trying couple of months for Maeta, Frank and Rick, but they don’t complain. Sitting outside the motorhome in a fold-up lawn chair in 86-degree August weather, 86-year-old Maeta plays fetch with her son’s German shepherd, Compass, who has not yet grasped the concept of the game. 

“I am getting along the best I can,” she says as she tosses the chew toy a couple feet away for Compass to retrieve. “Really, I just have an overwhelming sense of appreciation.”

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A flood of kind acts followed the flames, and that is what she said keeps her family looking on the upside. Those piles of debris used to be much bigger, she said. And before it was a pile of debris, it was her home that was up in flames.

She was born in the Netherlands. “As a young girl, I remember the Nazis marching in, and five days later I remember them marching out,” she said, referencing the May 10, 1940 invasion as part of the German Army’s war plan during the Battle of France. Five days later, one day after the bombing of Rotterdam, the Dutch forces surrendered. 

“I survived the war, lived through a lot of things, but never had a house fire,” she said. 

In 1956, she migrated to Canada. From Canada she moved to California in 1965, and moved to the southern Willamette Valley in 1968, where she’s been residing since. With an affinity to help others, she made her home here, operating Henrikson Foster home in Eugene from 1971-88. 

“I had always been interested in taking care of people,” she said. “It was well worth the effort, those 17 years.” 

Now, in her time of need, it seems Maeta and her family have encountered others with an affinity for helping others. 

While Maeta stood on the side of the road and watched the flames, a neighbor ran over with socks and shoes for Maeta’s bare feet. And after the intense battle, a firefighter onscene slipped the family $300, and $200 a few days later.  

“It’s happened at least a dozen times that someone just dropped by and gave us $100 or offered food, clothing or help,” Frank said. “The amount of people that just stepped up to help us, just complete strangers, anonymous people … they put themselves in our shoes and just know that it could’ve just as easily been them.”

A local winery donated its time and staff to clean up and haul away piles and piles of burned debris, and Herc Rentals in Coburg donated free clean-up equipment for one week. 

A woman who had cut Frank’s hair for 20 years donated $500, and strangers who had lost their home in the Paradise, California fires stopped by and gave them $200. The Fox Hollow Family Tragedy Relief on GoFundMe has generated more than $9,300.  

“A lot of the people who are donating are people that don’t even have a lot of money themselves,” she said. “The support has been incredible and even the little things sure are comforting.” 

Aloha Heart of Springfield first met Frank after he dropped by her house to install floors for her home. 

“The first time I met him, he had stuff all over his shoes. I said to him, ‘Honey, Frank, there is something black all over your shoes.’ Realizing he was tracking in ash from the fire, he apologized profusely and took off his shoes, and that’s when he told me about it all.” 

Since then, Heart has been advocating for the family in need, in hopes that through community support, the family could soon buy a used three-bedroom manufactured home to live out of. The family is starting from scratch; there was no insurance on the home, Maeta said.  

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“It was a shocker, but we have our animals and we all made it out, and that’s really all that matters,” Frank said. “To see all the homeless people on the streets … to have a roof over my head, to not have to move my house every day … I am very thankful to be where I am.”