I had too much stuff and Im paying for it
- Alana Kansaku-sarmiento
- The Times - News
Chamber rallies around longtime Tualatin volunteer who lost everything in kitchen fire
She wore bright blue mascara, but her clothing - athletic pants, a jacket and an apron - were black. In fact, standing in her hollowed-out trailer amid heaps of charred belongings on a gray Friday afternoon, her makeup may have been the only blue in sight.
An entire side of Debi Dirks' mobile home in Tualatin was burned in an Oct. 10 fire. But on Friday, a dozen or so members of the Tualatin Chamber of Commerce worked to clear the site. Avoiding soft spots in the floor, broken glass and soggy piles of ash, Chamber CEO Linda Moholt led the final push toward cleaning out the trailer so Dirks can move out and move on.
'The folks that really helped me kind of came out of the woodwork,' Dirks said, grateful for the help.
Dirks was living at the Willow Glen Mobile Home Park on Southwest Herman Road with her son and his partner when a cooking fire devastated their home.
When fire crews attempted to make their way into the home that morning, they were impeded by the piles of clothing, boxes of paper, chairs and stools that filled the cramped space.
Her trailer was filled with a great deal of belongings, many passed down from her grandmother. Piles of clothing - some of which she had intended on handing down to friends, or taking to second-hand stores - filled her house and covered her porch. Most of it burned, along with items from her grandmother, including an old stand-up piano and an assortment of jewelry.
'I have a lot of guilt right now,' Dirks said, turning her gaze down and dabbing a small cut on her finger. 'It was all my fault. I had too much stuff, and I'm paying for it.'
Dirks lost two dogs and two cats during the incident.
'They didn't even judge me'
As members of the work party cleaned out the trailer Friday, they brought items to Dirks for inspection. A large truck bed headed for storage filled with items that Dirks deemed salvageable.
'Debi, this is pretty warped,' Moholt said of a framed Beatles poster that Dirks had assigned to the 'keep' pile.
With a tiny bit of persuasion, the poster was resigned to the trash bin, which was barely a fraction of the size of the keep pile.
'They were so nice,' Dirks said. 'They didn't even judge me on what I wanted to keep. I was so embarrassed. Even my own family probably wouldn't have done that.'
According to Dirks, the storage unit being used to house her belongings was paid for by a generous community member. Thanks to donations, Dirks has all the clothes and food she needs right now. Any money she gets at this point will go toward buying a new home, which could cost $12,000 to $16,000. Until then, she, her son and his partner are relying on the hospitality of friends.
Dirks has been a Tualatin resident since 1984 and a Willow Glen tenant for 16 years. A familiar face to many in the community, Dirks has volunteered at Tualatin's annual Crawfish Festival every year for the past 25 years or so.
'The person with the next-longest record is a city employee with 12 years,' Dirks said.
Dirks' true passion is dance. Shortly after moving to Tualatin, she formed a youth dance team, The Rosettes, and taught dance classes in the area until three years ago, when another fire destroyed the shed that housed all of her dance costumes and material. Since then she's relied on odd jobs for income, including newspaper delivery and book-keeping.
'I know dance is my calling, I just know it,' Dirks said, who hopes to start classes back up as soon as she rekindles enough interest and support.
Moholt, hair drawn back and gloves covered in soot, paused from her work to comment on Dirks.
'She just has a spark, an energy, a passion for her dance,' she said.
Moholt led the effort to gather support and supplies for Dirks after the fire.
'I told our members, 'I realize this is not your problem, but someone needs our help. Would you mind helping?' And they said, 'No problem. Tell us what you need.' The outpouring has just been amazing,' Moholt said. 'That's what the Chamber is really all about: connecting business and community.'
Dirks, who spent her 53rd birthday in a hotel room a week after the fire, shared her gratitude toward the community for their support.
'I get involved in my community because it doesn't cost a lot. It's just your time. I think that's the best thing you can give somebody,' she said. 'That's what's been nice, is that complete strangers (have helped me). It's been amazing.
Dirks remains optimistic about what's next.
'I've been saying I'm a phoenix. I'm from good stock. I may live in a ghetto, but I'm not ghetto. I'm not.'
Anyone who wishes to donate money can visit the Tualatin US Bank and make a deposit in Dirks' name. Anyone willing to donate furniture or storage items (such as boxes or tubs) can call Dirks at 503-270-9649.