The Wilkins family is trying to pick up the pieces following a devastating fire at their home in Godfrey. Ann Wilkins says she and her children will not be able to move back into the home for four to five months. From left are Madeline, 13, Ethan, 7, and Ashlan, 20.
GODFREY — Ann Wilkins was busy inside her home on Morkel, listening to her children playing basketball outside, when her world was turned upside down.
“I smelled something almost electrical, and when I walked down the hall, I saw that the kitchen was full of smoke,” Wilkins said. “We were preheating the oven for dinner, and at first I thought the smoke was from the oven. Then I realized it was coming from downstairs.”
She yelled to her two younger children, 13-year-old Madeline and 7-year-old Ethan, to stay outside as she found the family dog and one cat, and then realized with horror the other cat was still inside.
“We were really upset, and then he suddenly appeared in the front window,” she said. “We opened the window from outside and pulled him out.”
It was about 6:30 p.m. Sept. 6 when Godfrey firefighters arrived at 3306 Morkel Drive, and they knew they needed help. Off-duty firefighters, along with the Fosterburg and Alton fire departments, soon arrived to help battle the blaze.
Wilkins told firefighters she was grateful the fire did not happen in the middle of the night, and that everyone was safe.
The house incurred “significant fire damage,” originating from the basement. The fire is under investigation (a standard practice), and initial property and content loss is valued at $100,000.
Wilkins and her children escaped literally with the clothes on their backs, and moved to a local hotel (Ann is separated from her husband, who lives in Rock Island, Ill.). It will be months before the home is habitable again.
As word of the fire has spread throughout the Greater Alton area, Wilkins says she has been overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude. Thanks in part to good Samaritans the family did not know, they have the basics, a place to stay, and most of all, hope.
“Everyone has been so incredible,” Wilkins said. “I am completely humbled by the kindness and generosity from so many — the Alton, Godfrey and Fosterburg fire departments, CMS Construction, the staff and management at Holiday Inn, everyone in the Alton School District, and the many, many friends, family and members of the community who have donated money, gift cards, and clothing and incidentals.”
The family’s insurance does not cover their housing during the rebuilding process, and friends say the bills are quickly going to pile up. But Wilkins says in spite of the loss, her family’s tragedy has been a reminder that her community is really an extended family.
“An Alton firefighter was concerned about Ethan being at the hotel and not able to swim because he had no swim trunks,” she said. “He went to Target and bought swim trunks, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pajamas and a Spiderman Lego set.
“Then, tonight, the Godfrey assistant fire chief called to ask if Ethan got his stuffed wolf cleaned and his favorite blanket. That is true kindness.”
While there has been an outpouring of help from the area, the family has a difficult and expensive few months ahead of them. To find out how to help the Wilkins family, go to www.gofundme.com/WilkinsFamilyFund or email Ann at firstname.lastname@example.org.