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Estacada comes to the rescue

Community helps a local veteran who lost his house to a fire in October
by: Jeff Spiegel John Nieder stands in front of his temporary home, a trailer that is parked in his driveway while his old house is being rebuilt.

For people who spend their whole lives helping others, it can be difficult to accept help. For John Nieder, 64, he didn't have a choice.

Nieder was spending time at a friend's house when he got a phone call saying his house was on fire. He rushed home as quickly as he could, only to discover flames shooting out of the downstairs window.

Nieder's wife, Patricia, and other family members were in another room when the fire broke out at 7 p.m. Oct. 4 in the office of the house. A computer had caught fire, which ignited the desk before heading up the walls and ceiling. Everyone escaped without major injuries, but his daughter and brother-in-law were treated for smoke inhalation.

Upon arriving home, Nieder began speaking with Fire Chief Alan Hill when he started feeling pain in his chest - a heart attack.

After three days in the hospital, Nieder had recovered enough to be released to the motel where his wife was renting a couple of rooms.

'When I got there she already had a whole bunch of donations, so there were boxes of stuff including all kinds of clothing, bed sheets, blankets, towels and all kinds of things,' he said. 'I don't know where it all came from because people just started donating, and it was coming from all directions.'

Some items were left at the community center, the Grace House, some at the motel and some had been collected by the Estacada Support Our Troops Foundation.

'I always knew Estacada was a damn great town and a great place to live, but this just really, really brought it to the front and showed me how great they really are,' he said. 'It was amazing, and I was just blown away.

'I figure most people hear about a fire and go, 'That's too bad, life sucks for them' and then move on with their life, but I didn't know there were that many people in town who cared,' he said.

For Nieder, the idea of helping others is far from foreign. He grew up on a farm with the idea that neighbors always help neighbors and to always help those in need.

He carried that with him through life as he spent 13 years on active duty for the Air Force and 13 more years in the Air National Guard in Portland. He also was a reserve deputy for the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office.

'I did a tour in Vietnam and when I got out I joined the Air National Guard, and they go all over the place responding to floods and hurricanes and all kinds of things. So I was used to going places and helping people,' he said. 'I was used to all the usual law enforcement calls, so I spent my whole life responding to other people's emergencies.

'This was just a little bit too big to take care of by myself,' he said.

While he was at a loss for how to respond to the fire itself, it was responding to all of the help he received that left him even more confused.

'There were people all the way in Molalla, Colton, Oregon City, Vancouver, Portland, Eagle Creek, Sandy and people from all over the place that responded to our needs,' he said.

One of the best gifts they received was from Estacada's Skip-a-Week Quilt Club, which donated three quilts to the Nieders.

'For years I had seen their quilts at raffles and I've always wanted to get one, and they gave us three absolutely gorgeous quilts,' he said. 'One of them is definitely going on my bed once I get one again.'

As for how things have gone since the fire, Nieder is in good health and good spirits.

Because they had insurance, their house is going to be knocked down to the foundation and rebuilt in the same spot.

In the meantime, they were given money to rent a place until May, when the house is expected to be completed, but they went in a slightly different direction.

'We've always talked about wanting a camper to be able to go down to the coast and stuff, so the rent money turned into a deposit on a nice camper,' he said. 'Plus, my wife knew that I'd be at the house every day monitoring what was going on, so this way we're parked right in our driveway.'

With his house and camper now taken care of, Nieder has had time to reflect on everything that happened as he begins to move on.

'Other people involved might ask why this happened to us, but I don't do that,' he said. 'The most heart-breaking thing is some of the photographs and documents we lost that can't be replaced.'

Among the losses was a family history that Nieder and his father had developed over the course of 30 years, which was stored on the destroyed computer.

In the end, however, Nieder is just thankful to be alive and even more thankful for all of the support the family has received.

'All of that support gave us an inner healing,' he said. 'And while we're not church-attenders, we are all definitely firm believers, which helped the rest of the family.'

With all of the donations totaling far more than they could ever use, the Nieders took what they needed for the immediate future and re-donate everything else to the Yellow House.

'I wanted it to go back to the town that helped us out,' he said. 'We owe a huge thank you to the wonderful people of Estacada and the surrounding area. My friend told me that Estacada is a small town with a big heart, and I got a real good example of why that is true.'