October 16, 2008
Thursday, Oct. 2, was a day of epiphany for at least one Holly Springs resident.
Sandra Holpe put out a fire to save a stranger’s house and the two came to know each other like Good Samaritans.
After spending two days at Alliance Hospital in Holly Springs recovering from smoke inhalation, Holpe was back home recovering and doing most of the daily activities she is used to doing. Last week she talked about what happened on a day of yard sale hopping.
“It seemed like fate had it this way,” she began.
“We had gone earlier in the day to a yard sale and didn’t have room in the car for everything we wanted to buy, so I decided to go back home and get my niece’s van.”
With the van, Holpe could put the seats down and get the whole load picked up at once, she said. They left a pile of things they wanted to buy stacked in Regenia Williams’ yard and drove back to Holly Springs for the van.
It was when they were going back to pick up their selections that “everything that could happen seemed to happen,” Holpe said.
They kept seeing more yard sales along Highway 178 back to Victoria and stopped at each sale to look, she said. But at the first stop, it seemed no one was there to quote them a price, so they left without buying anything and continued west.
At the last sale before going on to Williams’ house, Holpe said her little sister, who had her grandchild in the van, had trouble with the baby. The baby noticed a stuffed toy horse, but it belonged to the yard sale lady’s grandchild.
“My sister’s grandbaby cried for the horse and we kept looking for something to satisfy the baby,” Holpe said. “Finally, at Boots and Spurs, we found an ugly doll that satisfied her. Now we are on our way from Boots and Spurs and hungry. We discussed stopping at the Texaco Station to eat, but didn’t.”
Holpe said they didn’t eat because it was getting later than they expected and she feared the yard sale in Victoria may have sold everything they had asked them to hold.
“We were concerned they may have sold our stuff, even though they had told us they would hold it,” she said. “We were worried they would sell it because we were so late.”
When they arrived for the second time at Regenia Williams’ yard sale, before they got out of the van, Williams and her grandchild came out the front door to greet them. Following Williams out of the house was a gigantic dog, Holpe said.
“We were getting out of the van and saw the dog, and Regenia was telling us he wouldn’t bite a fly,” said Holpe. “All of us were jittery because the dog was so big.”
Williams insisted on helping Holpe and her family, but Sandra Holpe noticed she was wearing a hospital band on her wrist.
“We tried to get her not to help,” Holpe said. “She went back inside and after a while came out of the house crying out, ‘The house is on fire! The house is on fire,’ and fell to her knees!
“I looked up at the roof and smoke was just billowing.”
Williams had the phone in one hand and was screaming and hollering, Holpe said.
Sandra Holpe said she has never been the heroic type.
“Usually, if something is happening I let the professionals handle it,” she said.
But when she went down on her knees everything changed.
“When she fell to her knees, something just kicked in,” Holpe said. “I knew that pain. I had been through that pain before. I didn’t think. I just started working on the fire.”
While visiting with Holpe in the hospital, Williams said Holpe told her about her house burning down when she was young. The family lost everything.
“I remember saying to myself so many times - ‘I ain’t got nothing, I ain't got nobody,’ ” Holpe said. “I could not and would not let it happen to her. If I had lost my life, I would have just lost my life. I did not think. If I had just lost my life, I know she would have known I had done my best.”
Holpe does not usually know by name the people at the yard sales. She just buys.
“At a yard sale, I am trying to hustle to get them down on their price,” she said.
And she did not know Williams yet.
Holpe said the next moments were desperate as her family tried to enter the house to put the fire out.
“They took off running to the house,” said Williams, adding that the medical band on her wrist was put on when she went in for blood work for an upcoming surgery.
Holpe and her family had tried to enter the house but were initially pushed back by the smoke.
“I took the sledge hammer and started breaking out windows to let the smoke out,” Williams said.
Holpe’s relatives, Marilyn Brown and Theresa Jackson, worked furiously to get the water hose ready while Williams cracked out four windows and, now inside the house, Holpe pulled the hose inside began spraying water.
“They said I was holding it like you hold a gun,” Holpe said.
“When I went in this time, I told her, ‘I am not going to let that house burn up. You may have some damage, but you are not going to have no home,’ ” Holpe said.
“I went straight in the kitchen and just started spraying the ceiling and the counter and the stove. Lastly, I held the hose on the breaker box to get it to blow. When it blew, the fire was smoldering.”
Holpe was helped out of the house and lay prone in the yard, exhausted and choking for breath. She tried to cough but couldn’t.
Her hair was singed over her face and a wig she was wearing was singed on the top, too.
At this time, Holpe said she was very confused. Chief Kenny Holbrook and the Holly Springs Fire Department had arrived to assist Victoria Fire Department.
“I thought I was dead when I saw Chief Holbrook’s white hair,” Holpe said. “He was soft spoken. He said, ‘You put the fire out. You know you saved these people's home, don’t you?’ ”
Holpe remembers nothing else until she awoke at Alliance Hospital.
“When I was at the hospital, someone (a visitor to another room) walked in and asked me why did I do that for somebody white?” Holpe said. “I asked, were they white? I didn’t even notice.
“I told them, pain doesn’t have a color. Pain is like something that is odorless.
“Hurt does not have a color. To lose everything does not have a color. I know because I’ve been there.”
Williams visited with Holpe and her family the first night at the hospital.
“My family was there and she hugged on my family and said, ‘This is my angel. This is my guardian angel.’ She told my sister, ‘I love her (Sandra Holpe). I love her to death.’ I told her, I love you, too.”
Holpe has been back to the house where she put out the fire several times since being released from the hospital and they talk almost daily on the phone.
“I told Regenia, if I’m her guardian angel, I’ve got to see what she’s up to. She says she is never going to cook anymore. I said, cook, but just be careful. I just call her the love of my life.
“I told her, I never felt that way before. I’ve always been on the receiving end. It is so good to be able to do something for somebody. She deserves all the goodness. The Lord put her through her test. She passed with flying colors.”
Williams said she was in the kitchen frying chicken when Holpe and her family drove up.
“By the time I went out and said, ‘let me go flip my chicken,’ it had caught fire,” she said.
“It had caught fire and a grease fire is quick,” she said.
The walls in the living room and kitchen have to be replaced and the contents, she said.
The Williamses have lived in this home for five years.
“I am thankful she was there when it happened,” Williams said. “I could not have saved my house. I am nobody to her. Out of the goodness of her heart she did what she did. It’s a blessing in disguise. I could have lost my whole house.”
Williams said other friends and neighbors stepped in to help clean up.
“We were able to stay in the house that night. I had people - friends and family - to help me clean and we were able to stay,” she said. “My neighbor Carol Walker came over and said, ‘Give my some clothes. I'll start washing.’ ”
Williams said she has felt that most people do not care about their neighbors.
“But there are some good people here,” she said. “They do exist. It will be a while but we will get the house fixed up.”
Chief Holbrook said by the time his trucks arrived there was light smoke showing from the house but the fire was knocked down and smoldering.
The skillet was still crackling and the kitchen cabinets and vent-a-hood had been well involved, he said.
Although fire workers do not recommend anyone try to put a fire out themselves, he said Holpe had done a good job.
But she had inhaled hot air and gases which caused respiratory problems, he said.
“We began treating her with oxygen and MedStat transported her to the hospital,” he said.
Although Holpe did a good job, sometimes it is not a safe thing to do, he said.
Firefighters recommend everyone get out of the house immediately, he said, and close all doors and windows to starve the fire from oxygen.
He said 911 should be called after everyone is out of the house safely and accounted for if the fire cannot safely be extinguished.
Holbrook said if no one is left in the house and there is no life at risk, it is best to wait for the fire department to get there.
Everything in a house but a life can be replaced, he said.
“Do not risk your health for property,” he said. “We carry personal protective equipment that allows us to attack a fire safely.
“If a person’s life is involved, that’s when we put our people at risk, but they are trained personnel. We teach, get out, stay out, and close all doors behind you.”
October 5-11 was Fire Awareness Week nationwide.
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