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Tue, Nov. 19

Home destroyed — Now what?: Couple shares how they're recovering from devastating loss

Joe and Kathy Hull look fondly on some books that survived a lightning-caused fire that all but destroyed their home in mid-September, 2019. (Max Efrein/Courier)

Joe and Kathy Hull look fondly on some books that survived a lightning-caused fire that all but destroyed their home in mid-September, 2019. (Max Efrein/Courier)

Words alone can’t fully describe what Joe and Kathy Hull have gone through in the last month.

The couple moved to the Prescott area about a year ago from Washington to enjoy their retirement. They had purchased a 5,500 square-foot-home in the Granite Oaks subdivision just north of Prescott and filled it with all the belongings they had acquired throughout their lives.

On one fateful night in mid-September, they crossed the street to eat dinner at a neighbor’s home. Monsoon weather was sweeping through at the time, but the Hulls and their hosts thought little of the turbulence except for how impressive the lightning looked as it flashed across the sky. Just as they were eating dessert, they heard a bolt crack nearby.

“We all jumped out of our seats because it was so loud,” Joe said.

Rather than inspect the neighborhood for any signs of damage, they continued talking for about 30 minutes before saying goodnight. As they opened the door to leave, they saw their roof was on fire.

Joe immediately called 911 and ran up to their home’s front door. He opened it and considered entering to collect valuables, but the 911 dispatcher firmly told him not to take the risk, so he backed off.

Firefighters arrived within minutes and began pumping the building with water and fire-retardant foam. It took about two hours and 70,000 gallons of fluid before the flames were extinguished.

“By that time, it had burned the roof and the entire second floor,” Joe said. “We lost pretty much everything from either smoke, water or fire.”

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Kathy Hull gazes at a sign that survived a lightning-caused fire that all but destroyed her home in mid-September, 2019. (Max Efrein/Courier)

Andie Smith, a fire investigator with the Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority, responded shortly after the firefighters. She confirmed that the fire had started from lightning, and ended up spending some time speaking with the Hulls that night. She’s seen her fair share of homes lost to fire and said it’s never easy.

“The emotional toll of a structure fire like that is really significant,” Smith said. “I try to be cognizant of that and how it affects people; not just come in, do a report and walk away.”

Smith explains to homeowners in such cases that they should start a claim with their insurance company as soon as possible.

She also addresses the trauma that comes with a loss like this.

“I ask people to be careful in keeping an eye on each other in a family or a couple to watch for signs of emotional trauma and to get counseling if they need it,” Smith said.

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Kathy and Joe Hull look from a second-story doorway at the skeletal remains of their home in the Granite Oaks subdivision off of Williamson Valley Road Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. The 5,500-square-foot building was all but destroyed after a lightning-caused fire in mid-September. (Max Efrein/Courier)

The Arizona Crisis Team will also respond to these scenes if requested. The nonprofit does what it can to provide any immediate needs of the affected individuals, whether that be clothing and toiletries or connection to resources like Prescott Firefighter’s Charities or American Red Cross, which can sometimes help cover some bills and cover the cost of a night’s stay in a hotel.

In this case, the same neighbors who had hosted the Hulls for dinner that night welcomed them to stay for a week. The couple then slept in a hotel for another week before moving into a rental home, where they expect to stay for about a year while they pull their collective life back together.

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A lightning-caused fire all but destroyed the home of Kathy and Joe Hull in the Granite Oaks subdivision in mid-September.

The home they had owned for just 13 months is now scheduled to be demolished in the coming weeks so they can start building an entirely new one.

Fortunately, their insurance policy was good enough to cover most of the damage. They did, however, lose many irreplaceable belongings, including some family heirlooms.

“We had a quilt that was Joe’s mother’s when he was a teenager,” Kathy said. “Things like that are gone.”

But helping them through the difficult time has been their faith in God and a constant reminder: “It’s just stuff,” Kathy said. “I don’t want to be flippant and say ‘It doesn’t mean anything.’ It does hurt. It’s a mourning that we’re going through. But we’re hopeful too, because this isn’t what we live for. What’s important is nobody got hurt.”

PRECAUTIONS TO TAKE

When events like this occur, it’s a reminder that anyone can fall victim to chance disaster.

The majority of the time in Yavapai County, that disaster comes in the form of fire or water, Yavapai County Emergency Manager Ron Sauntman said.

“What we recommend to people is that prior to an incident occurring, make sure the insurance is adequate,” Sauntman said. “Flood insurance is good no matter where you live, because even if you don’t live in a flood zone, there are other types of flooding.”

Smoke detectors are also considered a must by emergency responders.

“I can’t emphasize the importance of smoke detectors enough,” Smith said.

As for one’s belongings, Smith said that is usually where insurance policies come up short. Reason being, most people don’t properly document what they own in order to file a meaningful insurance claim.

“If you don’t have proof of your contents, you may end up spending a lot of time trying to prove what you had,” Smith said. “It’s a simple, easy thing to do to photograph or videotape all the contents in your house and then of course store that digitally somewhere other than your house.”

If there are any documents or belongings that are of particular importance, Smith said those should be either easy to quickly grab in the case of an emergency evacuation, or kept in something like a fireproof safe. Significant documents can also be scanned and saved digitally or somewhere offsite.

“It’s easier nowadays to safeguard those things than it was in the past by scanning and saving to the Cloud,” Smith said.

Follow Max Efrein on Twitter @mefrein, email him at mefrein@prescottaz.com or call him at 928-445-3333 ext. 1105.

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