By Dave Vrbas
The Wauneta Breeze
A Palisade couple is homeless following a Saturday afternoon fire that claimed their home of 35 years.
Fire crews from Palisade and Hayes Center battled flames and smoke, as well as severe heat and humidity, for four grueling hours before making the tough decision to declare the home of Mel and Colleen McVicker — located just one block west of Palisade’s Main Street — a total loss.
During the blaze, which originated in an extension cord which was supplying electricity to the refrigerator in the kitchen of the dwelling, several firefighters became overwhelmed by the severe heat with one member of the Palisade squad transported to the hospital by Wauneta’s EMS team after falling victim to physical exhaustion caused by the afternoon’s severe heat.
Earlier that afternoon, Colleen McVicker was right outside the house playing in their above-ground pool with her daughter, Sarah Witt, and grandkids, when they heard a loud pop come from inside the house. Thinking one of their cats had toppled something over, they continued to splash about in the pool. It wasn’t until Witt noticed smoke coming out of the house that McVicker raced in to investigate the grim scene.
“I opened the front door and smelled the smoke right away,” McVicker explained. “I ran to the kitchen doorway and flames were shooting out from behind the fridge.”
First calling Palisade Rural Fire & Rescue, then hauling her many pets outside to safety, McVicker said it didn’t take long for the fire to spread throughout the entire house.
Hayes Center crews arrived shortly after Palisade’s squad, but the fire eventually won out, even though crews battled the blaze for nearly four hours.
During the fire call, several volunteer firefighters succumbed to the severe heat and humidity, fleeing to a shady refuge along the curb across the street. There they were tended to by local registered nurse and former rescue squad member Kellie Miner, as well as a handful of local citizens who were on the scene to lend a hand as well as sundry supplies.
After a few hours of all-out war against the blaze, a Palisade firefighter needed to be transported by the Wauneta EMS squad to McCook Community Hospital, where he was treated for heat exhaustion, coupled with a diabetic emergency, and later released. He had been receiving on-site care by Palisade EMS members and his condition wasn’t improving, necessitating care from a physician.
Nebraska State Fire Marshall Ryan Sylvester commended the Palisade and Hayes Center squads for their decisive action in tackling the inferno. “They did a great job of recognizing the need to back off the offensive and go on the defensive to suppress the fire from an outside position,” Sylvester said.
Sylvester explained that the extension cord being used for the fridge was not designed to carry the electrical load of a refrigerator. As the fridge began to cycle again to cool its contents, heat built up in the cord, began to smolder at the back of the fridge and was kindled by clutter. As flames grew, the fire soon encompassed the entire structure.
Tough year for McVicker family
For McVicker, the loss of her home comes as yet another test of her resilience during undoubtedly one of the toughest years of her life. On February 21 of this year, her son, Bryan, was fatally wounded in a hunting accident in Shamrock, Texas. Just two weeks after his tragic death, her mother passed away.
As she sifts through waterlogged piles of personal belongings in the soot and ashes, she realizes that all the physical remnants of her son’s abbreviated life were lost in the blaze.
“It’s been very tough because there are so many things that are irreplaceable,” McVicker said Monday at her daughter’s home, fighting back tears. “I hadn’t really completely grieved for Bryan yet. And now this. I can’t even imagine what’s next.”
The American Red Cross met up with the McVicker family on Sunday, setting them up with a debit card to use for clothing, food and other miscellaneous necessities. Without homeowner’s insurance in place on the dwelling, they realize their options are very limited.
For now, they’re living in a pop-up camper just north of the charred remains of their former home, hoping to get a loan to purchase a house just down the block.
McVicker credits the generosity of locals for keeping her somewhat optimistic. “We’ve had so much help from people here in town,” she said. “But I don’t want to be a charity case. I dread that thought.”
McVicker said she and Witt have gone into the house a couple times to sort through the remains only to leave in tears after a few minutes. “Every time I go in there, I just fall apart. It’s been really tough already, and it’s going to be a long haul.”