Losing everything is a nightmare no one should have to experience, but for one St. John resident tragedy was softened by the generosity of friends and neighbors.
Doreen Callwood, who has already dealt with more than her share of grief after mourning both a son and a daughter in the past few years, didn’t even have shoes on her feet when she ran out of her burning house earlier this month.
Callwood, a Caneel Bay Resort taxi driver who lives in Pine Peace with her grandson, was awoken by neighbors on Thursday night, November 5, and quickly realized something was terribly wrong.
“I was sleeping and it was probably around 10:30 p.m.,” said Callwood. “I have some people living next door to me and they started pounding on the door. I was asleep, but it kind of felt like I was fainting.”
Without realizing it, Callwood was inhaling smoke while she slept.
“I was breathing in my sleep and I was feeling faint,” she said. “I woke up and saw smoke coming out of the electric outlet where I had the lamp plugged in. I was inhaling the smoke and that’s why I felt like I was fainting.”
As soon as she realized what was happening, Callwood ran to her grandson’s room where she awoke the 18-year-old and took him outside.
“My grandson was asleep too and when I pulled him out of bed he was fussing and didn’t know what was going on,” said Callwood. “I told him it looks like the house is on fire and by the time I reached outside you could see the flames.”
With smoke billowing throughout the house, Callwood somehow managed to keep her calm.
“I didn’t remember to bring out anything,” Callwood said. “I was trying to get back inside to get my things but I did remember to turn off the gas and turn down the meter box. I thought I would panic, but I remember hearing you should shut the gas in case of fire and I did.”
By the time the V.I. Fire Department arrived, flames had enveloped the interior of Callwood’s concrete and stone house. Firefighters extinguished the fire — which officials believed started in the electrical system — and while the structure was sound, the interior was destroyed, Callwood explained.
“Everything burned in that house,” she said. “When they pulled me out, I didn’t even have shoes on my feet. I lost everything.”
Although dealing with the devastation of losing all of her possessions, Callwood has been reminding herself of more important things.
“It could have been worse,” she said. “I could have been burned or my grandson could have been hurt. Those things are just material things.”
“I worked hard for money to get those things, but they are just things,” Callwood said. “I thank God for life.”
Since the fire, Callwood has been amazed at the outpouring of love and support from the community. First, Guinea Grove Apartment owners offered Callwood and her grandson an apartment while she works to clean up her home. Callwood was in for a surprise when she went to church that Sunday as well.
“When I went to church that Sunday every one of those ladies had a bag for me,” Callwood said. “They brought clothes and creams, detergent and deodorant, tooth brushes and combs and towels. I cried when I saw all those bags they were giving me.”
“They said, ‘Doreen, you always cook when we need it, and now we can help you,’” she said.
Once word spread through Cruz Bay of Callwood’s tragedy, residents organized a cleaning brigade to start on mess in the house.
“Thank God for all those people,” said Callwood. “They came up to my house on Saturday and Sunday and cleaned and took everything out and threw it in the dump. They worked all day long for me two weekends in a row.”
Callwood also received help from several businesses and organizations including St. John Hardware, Carlson Construction, St. John Rotary and the St. John Revolving Fund.
Residents can also donate funds for Callwood through the St. John Revolving Fund at Connections in Cruz Bay. For more information about the benefit concert call 626-4990 or 642-7296. For more information about making donations through the revolving fund call Cid Hamling at 776-6922.