COLUMBIA — Archery bows handmade by her father. Fifteen sewing machines from when she was a seamstress. Laptops, artwork, acoustic guitars and clothes. The crackle of flames and the stench of smoke.
"You don't realize how much stuff you have until you lose it," Evelyn Ewing said.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Ewings' home at 909 Park Ave. caught fire, hospitalizing Evelyn for smoke inhalation and causing an estimated $80,000 of damage to the house. A lot was lost, much of it irreplaceable, but among the charred remains, a few precious items survived.
Evelyn was taking a nap in the living room when the fire started. She felt the heat on her head, woke up and saw flames. Her husband, David, was at work in Jefferson City.
A type-2 diabetic with a chronic lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe, Evelyn was pulled out of the house by Mike Wade, a technician from Woody's Auto Center, which is across the street from her home. The Ewings believe he saved her life.
"That guy who pulled her out of there — I owe him everything," David said.
"I do too," Evelyn said. "I'd be dead if I didn't get out of there."
Evelyn was not burned, but she was taken to the hospital because of smoke inhalation.
Her life was saved, but the fire claimed the lives of the Ewings' two cats, Miller, 15, and Gypsy, 3.
David said firefighters found the cats after the fire and wrapped them in a blanket. Using a partially burned shovel, he buried them in the backyard of the house.
Steve Schnarr and Melanie Cheney, longtime friends of the Ewings, helped them clean up after the fire.
“The devastation was amazing and complete,” Schnarr said. “I know those guys and I know that everything in that house has meaning to them. It’s a heartbreaking thing to see your friends — their history — destroyed in a few minutes like that.”
While going through the wreckage, Steve, Melanie and David found an unexpected moment of relief. The master bedroom, where they kept many of their most treasured belongings, wasn't destroyed.
In the bedroom, Melanie found a trunk with clothes piled on top. Inside the trunk was a green and white quilt with a stumbling pattern called the Drunkard's Path, which had been hand-stitched by Evelyn's grandmother for the Ewings' wedding 25 years ago. Next to it were singed photo albums, one of them with pictures from Evelyn's childhood.
They also found a handcrafted box, made from Osage orange, walnut and red elm, with an arrowhead and miniature longbow on the lid. Friend and local craftsman Matt Mehmert built the box out of wood that Evelyn's father had kept in his workshop.
After the fire, neither Evelyn nor David thought they would see any of these items again.
On Thursday night, the Ewings were staying in an extended-stay hotel, paid for by David's insurance. They didn't know how long they would be staying there.
To cope with their loss, Evelyn said, she will depend on those close to her and try to remain upbeat.
“It’s a part of my life where I try to think of the positive and just try to move on and let go," Evelyn said with tears in her eyes. "I’m just glad I got out with my life. I have support from my family and friends, and we’ll be just fine.”
The Ewings said they plan to return to the house Friday. It will be the first time Evelyn will be there since the house burned.
“We’re going to go back after this and get my car," she said Thursday. "We'll wait for tomorrow to come and pick up the best we can.”
Supervising editor is Landon Woodroof.