Family struggling after fire

By Rose Schneider

An electrical fire Dec. 6 caused an estimated $25,000 in damage to a two-car garage next to a mobile home at 4740 Freeman Road.

“The fire caused about $15,000 in property damage and about $8,000 to $10,000 in content damage,” said Pat Collins, Riley County emergency management director.

The tenants, Shilo Robineaux and her boyfriend, Aaron Hulsey, moved to Manhattan with their 2-year-old daughter a few weeks before the fire took place. They had previously lived in Junction City but decided to relocate after Hulsey’s November retirement from Army to pursue new job opportunities. He served as a medical soldier for five years and participated in one tour in Iraq. Neither tenant has renter’s insurance.

“Before the fire started, one of the tenants said the house lights started to flutter, and by the time he got outside the garage was on fire,” Collins said.

The fire took more than 21 firefighters from four different stations to extinguish. It took roughly 45 minutes for them to put it out and another two hours to dig through the rubble, extinguishing the remaining hot spots and isolated burning patches.

The house’s location — on a dead end — made it more difficult for firefighters to stop the fire.

“Dead-end roads are bad for us with having to haul our own water…they can create internal problems,” said Collins.

Because of the severity of the fire there is “no current way to prove without a shadow of doubt what caused the fire.”

However, Collins said the landlord was aware the property had electrical issues. An electrician had been scheduled to look at the property the following day.

Hulsey and Robineaux were still organizing their belongings and had many boxes with valuables in the garage. Almost everything in the garage was destroyed in the fire.

“Everything was still in that garage: our daughter’s toys, clothes, a TV, laptops, books, you name it,” Robineaux said. “My daughter is walking around with a burnt piggy bank saying, ‘It burnt, it burnt.’... It breaks my heart.”

Robineaux said more than anything she wants her daughter to have a normal Christmas in their new house.

“She lost more than any of us in the fire…I just want to be able to provide for her,” she said.

Even though many items were destroyed, firefighters were able to salvage a box of Robineaux’s mother’s belongings and a folded flag belonging to her former fiancé, who died overseas.

“Before the firefighter handed me the folded flag, the only thing I saw in my head was it going up in smoke,” said Robineaux. “When he handed it to me, unburned, I dropped to my knees…I owe that firefighter so much.”

Even though Robineaux is grateful firefighters were able to save a few of her sentimental items, she is concerned about the lack of warm clothes for her daughter and says she needs 3T and 4T clothes.

The family is trying to stay positive and plans to try to have a normal Christmas despite the loss of many of their belongings.

“We’re trying to rebuild ourselves so we can have Christmas with our child and bury what happened,” Robineaux said.

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