Darcy Burner is back in the driver’s seat — moving on with her life and her Democratic campaign for Congress, after a July 1 fire destroyed her home near Ames Lake and almost all of her family’s possessions.
She described her first day back at her office on Bel-Red Road as a “half-day,” although she had come in around noon and expected to be there until 8 or 9 p.m.
“You call that a half-day?,” we asked.
“Sure, in the campaign world,” Burner quipped, appropriately wearing a shirt with an Obama ‘08 logo.
She noted that the shirt was one of few belongings she still had from her life before the fire. It had been stashed in the trunk of her truck when the fire — caused by a faulty electrical device — began in the bedroom of her five-year-old son. The brave little boy, Henry, awakened his mom and his dad Mike and saved their lives.
A pair of tennis shoes and Darcy’s iPod were also in the truck. Aside from that, she, Mike and Henry escaped from the house with only the clothing they were wearing and the cell phone she clutched in her hand as she called 911.
The Burners’ dog named Bruce Wayne was miraculously carried out by a firefighter — alive, albeit with scorched fur. The family’s cat, Charlotte, did not survive.
NOWHERE TO GO BUT UP
At the time of our visit, Darcy seemed remarkably calm and upbeat for someone who had recently gone through such an ordeal.
“We’re holding up relatively well,” said Darcy, a candidate for the Eighth Congressional District, which includes Redmond . “It’s been an enormous process to get through all the little things.”
Finding a rental home that would allow a Golden Retriever and figuring out where Henry will start kindergarten have been the top priorities.
In addition to the time and money needed to replace the contents of a household, “it’s also an emotional process,” Darcy said. “Mike and I have been trying to do it a little at a time, so that we’re not overwhelmed. We went into Target and after about five minutes, we started to feel queasy because everything reminded us of something we had.”
Henry was temporarily staying with her parents in New Hampshire, “someplace safe and familiar, which allows us a breather to work through what is most essential and not expose him to our emotions.”
He was set to return in a few more days “and at least we’ll have a room for him to come back to,” she added.
Most upsetting for Henry was losing his favorite books about animals and his Legos. Darcy said they promised him, “We’ll get you another copy of ‘Dogzilla,’ another copy of ‘Kat Kong’ ….”
As hard as it was for Darcy and Mike to send their child across country without even a suitcase, “we knew it was the right thing for him — having people doting on him. He’s playing in the yard at his grandparents’ house, having fun, and we gave them permission to buy whatever he needs. We said, ‘We’ll reimburse you.’”
PUTTING THOUGHTS INTO ACTION
As Darcy shifts back into campaigning, she said Mike has been adamant in telling her, “Just go. I’ll take care of things.”
She shrugged, “Some things we lost were utterly replaceable, some not.” Strangely, an heirloom ring was recovered unharmed from a heavy wooden jewelry box that was charred from the fire. Darcy said only about two percent of what was inside the home was salvageable.
“But because Henry woke us up, he’s okay, Mike’s okay and I’m okay. We’re okay,” she emphatically stated.
We asked Darcy how this life-changing experience will influence her campaign platform. She said it has made her more grateful for the people in her community and the emergency responders.
“I have absolutely the best neighborhood,” she remarked.
She described how friends named Frank and Sandy brought Mike a pair of pants after he dove out the window of the burning house in a t-shirt and underwear.
“They brought over shoes, socks, coffee, whatever we needed. Cash to go to Value Village and buy some clothes. … My friend Katherine took me to Lens Crafters to get a pair of glasses. … This has really reinforced for me, how important are the people we love and the people in our community.”
After the violent wind storm in late 2006, the Ames Lake area outside of Redmond was one of the last to have power restored. The Burners and their neighbors pooled whatever resources they had, such as generators for heat and light, chain saws to clear debris from fallen trees, food and bottled water, Darcy explained.
“I’d been somewhat involved in emergency preparedness before — how to form cluster groups of how to look after each other in times of disaster,” she said. “And when we talk about adequate response times (from firefighters) and funding, now it hits a little closer to home.”
She praised the fire departments, including Redmond, that contained the fire, which could have wiped out an entire neighborhood.
“Both Mike and I have decided that the only way to go now is forward,” she continued. “We’ve had so many calls, e-mails and letters from people we know or don’t know, voicing their concerns or telling me to get back on the horse.”
NO TIME TO BROOD
According to Darcy’s Web site (www.darcyburner.com), she grew up in a blue-collar military family which mightily struggled under the weight of a sister’s medical bills and then worked her way through Harvard University by holding two or three jobs.
So she’s no stranger to tough times. We asked her if she ever wonders, “Why did this have to happen to me?” or “How much more can I take?”
She sighed and replied, “I don’t know how we become the people that we are. There have been so many occasions when I, or my family, were required to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off. When Mike and I were first married, we lost a daughter to medical malpractice. Now we just have to keep saying to ourselves, ‘Henry is all right. We’re all right.’ … In the short term, time has been taken away from the campaign, but we are working aggressively to put our lives together as much as we can.”
She credited her “very, very, very good staff, for being great about managing whether ‘Darcy is ready for that,’ setting up house parties or appearances to go to, making endless phone calls. It is because of them that so much of this work has been continued. We’re taking things one day at a time, one step at a time.”