Father lost all but his most precious possessions in the North Hudson fire
The extent of his losses was just starting to register with Howard Evans two days after fire destroyed his residence and all he owned.
"I mean, you name it. Anything you think of, I lost it," he said as if he still didn't quite believe it himself. "A pair of pants and socks is all I had."
All except for what is most dear to him - his children Raymond, 11, Caitlyn, 8, and Justin, 3, as well as his own life.
The 36-year-old Evans was sound asleep in a second-floor bedroom of the duplex at 317 Fourth St. N. when he was awakened by a banging noise coming from the first floor. He went downstairs to investigate and found his neighbor Mike Olson trying to break into the front door of his duplex unit. Smoke was pouring out of the front of the neighboring unit.
Recalling the next few minutes is like remembering a dream for Evans.
He rushed back upstairs to where his children were sleeping, grabbed 3-year-old Justin in his arms, woke 8-year-old Caitlyn and 11-year-old Raymond and herded them down the stairs, out of the building and across the street.
Olson had disappeared inside the burning duplex by that time.
"The next thing I know, his wife (Lisa) and kids (Christopher, 4, and Jonathan, 1 1/2) were up on the roof yelling and screaming," Evans recalled. "So she tossed the kids down to me. I caught them and I got them across the street, and I tried to catch her as best I could.
"Mike was the last one down. He was in pretty bad shape. He must have breathed quite a bit of smoke in. So I coaxed him down, helped him down, whatever. I don't know how he got down. But he got down and he made it across the street."
Evans isn't sure what his mental state was during the crisis.
"It was completely emotional. But honestly, I don't know if I was scared. I don't know what I was at the time," he said. "It was the thing to do - help get kids out. Somewhere along the line I put a garden hose in the kitchen window. I don't know when."
He re-entered the duplex in an attempt to save his cat and whatever possessions he could find, but was turned back by the heavy smoke four or five steps into the residence.
The divorced father of four takes care of his children on weekends. His oldest child, Sephani, 12, had stayed with her mother in Menomonie in order to attend school homecoming activities.
He works as an electrician for Mitchell-Hanson Electric.
Evans was grateful to the St. Croix County unit of the Red Cross, which provided him and his family with a week's stay in the Super 8 Motel and money to buy some clothing. The children were wearing only pajamas when they fled the fire.
Red Cross workers Dick Martin and Eric Melin of Hudson and Jack Erickson of New Richmond came to the scene of the fire in North Hudson to provide the aid.
Evans' boss, Tom Mitchell, was letting him drive a company van for a few days. Evans' 1996 Ford Contour car was destroyed in the fire along with everything else he owned - golf clubs, a TV, a VCR, a computerized PlayStation and countless other items. The biggest loss was irreplaceable photographs of his children.
He said he hadn't yet obtained renter's insurance because he was short of funds after the expense of moving into the duplex a month ago.
"The first couple of days, it doesn't seem like, well, it happened," he said hesitantly. "It's starting to sink in little by little."