Christmas Comes Early For Couple

Town of Star Valley comes to the rescue of couple left homeless by a house fire; more help needed

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Santa, in the form of the Town of Star Valley, is helping a couple restore their fire-damaged house.

The couple, living on Social Security, and forced from their home by a fire, is being helped by staff members of the Town of Star Valley.

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Dan and Cheryl Wilms have been staying in hotels and with friends since a fire on Dec. 8 forced them out of their Star Valley home.

A Community Development Block Grant will provide the necessary money to perform repairs to Dan and Cheryl Wilms' Star Valley home and get them back in as soon as possible.

The Dec. 8 fire left the Wilmses without a place to live for Christmas, Town Manager Vito Tedeschi said.

The house received sufficient damage to make it uninhabitable, he said. The fire started in the chimney and then spread to the attic.

When members of the town staff heard of the Wilmses' plight, they took it upon themselves to band together and help them, Tedeschi said.

"We are so grateful to everyone in Star Valley and Payson for all the help. Without it we would probably be staying out in the woods somewhere," Dan said.

What staff members in Star Valley did was to help the Wilmses fill out the paperwork to qualify for a federal emergency relief grant to make repairs to the home.

The CDBG grant gives the Town of Star Valley $140,000 to provide emergency relief to residents who qualify.

Out of that, $10,000 is scheduled to cover administrative and operational costs, and $30,000 is scheduled for the Meals-On-Wheels program for the elderly in Star Valley through the Payson Senior Center, Tedeschi said.

Repairs to the Wilmses' home are estimated at $6,500, he said.

Stephanie Jones, executive assistant for Star Valley, spearheaded the effort and obtained approval for emergency funds disbursement to help the displaced couple, Tedeschi said.

"She was the one who did all the paperwork with the Arizona Department of Housing to get the fire damage repaired," Tedeschi said.

Staff members also took it upon themselves to solicit bids for the necessary repairs to the home.

Several bids have come in from local companies to do the repair work, but no one has been chosen yet.

"It was minor compared to what it could have been," Cheryl said.

The fire started at about 11:30 p.m. that Saturday. It did not destroy the house, but caused enough damage to force the Wilmses from the home.

"I first noticed fire coming through some cracks around the chimney where it meets the roof," Dan said.

After using a hose to put out the flames inside the home, Dan said he went outside to see what was happening to the rest of the house.

"When I got outside, I could see flames coming out all around the chimney," he said.

The Diamond Star Fire Department arrived shortly thereafter and put out the flames.

The fire department took the chimney apart brick-by-brick and carried it out by bucket without causing any more damage than what was caused by the fire, Dan said.

"They went out of their way to protect our belongings, I can't thank them enough for everything they did," Cheryl said.

An inspection of the home following the fire determined conditions were unsanitary, due to smoke damage, requiring a request the Wilmses leave their home, Tedeschi said.

The American Red Cross is providing temporary relief for the couple, he said.

"The Red Cross provided direct financial assistance for food and groceries, as well as clothing and shoes for the people living in the home at the time of the fire. Additionally, they were provided two hotel rooms for three nights, until they were able to make alternate living arrangements," Megan Morris, Director of Communications for the American Red Cross Grand Canyon Chapter, said.

The Wilmses have been staying at hotels since the fire, courtesy of donations from the Red Cross, Salvation Army, friends and family, Cheryl said.

"Without everyone's help we wouldn't be able to get through this," she said.

It is hoped repairs to the Wilmses' home are completed in seven to 10 days, Tedeschi said.

The Wilmses said they are not sure where they will stay if repairs to their home are not completed before help runs out.

While the repairs to the Wilmses' roof and chimney will allow them to move back into their home soon, they still need help, Tedeschi said.

"We're (the Town of Star Valley) not allowed to solicit donations to help the couple," he said.

"But I am hoping a local charitable organization will take up the cause."

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