Fire victims lose everything except community support
Out in the country, on Leaf River Road, a charred pile is all that remains of the Beltran home.
The family of six wasn’t home June 7 when a heating lamp for chickens, what fire investigators suspect, sparked the blaze.
The community has rallied around Steve and Jenny Beltran and their four children, who are staying in a bunkhouse in Pecatonica temporarily.
Forrestville Valley School Superintendent, Sheri Smith organized “Rally of Love” as a way to provide a central location for donations.
“Everyone was asking what they could do. It made sense to do something for them here. The beauty of being in a small town is, people will step-up to help get them through this,” Smith said.
School staff volunteered to accept donations, as well as brought in items. Coaches dropped off apparel and equipment for the children, Jeremy, 12, Julianna, 12, Matthew, 10 and Max, 3.
Library aide Barbara Miller coordinated the volunteers, most of whom are school staff, and she said were quick to offer a hand.
Jenny is a substitute teacher through the Lee-Ogle County Education Consortium, often in the school district. The children also attend school in the district.
Smith created an online survey that lists all of the items received and still needed for the family. Much like a guest registry, it helps limit duplicates.
Pots and pans, dishes, clothing, toys, cash and gift cards were among the many items people brought to Forreston Junior-Senior High School June 12.
“If the school is open, people are welcome to continue bringing items after today,” Smith said.
The Beltrans, who volunteer and help out wherever they are needed, said it is humbling yet difficult to be on the other side.
“People all over, even people we don’t know, have been amazing,” Jenny said.
Steve agreed. “There are a lot of people doing a lot of things for us, and we really appreciate everything,” Steve said. “You always hear about paying it forward, it’s just, you never think about it like this or expect anything in return. This community has been phenomenal.”
The family was at the parade during German Valley Days June 7.
Matthew and Jeremy were on separate floats when a neighbor called saying smoke could be seen from their property.
“I drove home, only to see it complete engulfed in flames,” Steve said. “Jenny arrived five minutes later and we sobbed in the drive way.”
After a couple of devastating minutes, the couple received a call that Jeremy had been run over by a float and was being rushed to the hospital.
Jenny left the fire and headed to the hospital. Steve stayed behind.
Since third grade, Jeremy has suffered from immune thrombocytopenia (ITP), which causes the immune system to attack and destroy its own blood platelets.
Doctors said his leg was sprained, and he was sent home. By the next day, he was in excruciating pain and his leg was swollen, causing his mother to take him to another hospital.
He was rushed to the pediatric hematologist where they discovered he had a broken ankle.
As a result, emergency treatments to infuse his body with platelets had to be administered to save his leg.
On crutches, he said he isn’t in as much pain, and feels much better since the residual effects of the treatments are gone.
With their son finally on the mend and reality of their loss having set in, emotionally it has been draining for Steve and Jenny.
Their dream home, built seven years ago, was gone, as was their beloved therapy dog, Bella.
“She was a phenomenal dog,” Steve said.
He and daughter Julianna, used to visit patients in hospitals and residents of Pinecrest Manor in Mt. Morris with her.
More than that, he said, she was an instrumental part of their family and the loss is devastating.
“They say God works in mysterious ways,” Steve said. “Six months ago I lost my uncle [Larry Albeck] to cancer. He was a wonderful man who guided me in so many ways of my life. One of his personal items, which I cherish the most, was his serenity coin, which he carried with him.”
Following Albeck’s death Steve kept the coin with him. It was attached to a small bell and whistle.
“I carried it with me at work, and at times the bell would chime to remind me of his strength in life and his faith,” he said.
“I relished his serenity coin and prayer. I had lost my whole life’s work, my home, my faith and my sacred spirited coin. I am angry. The fire took our family pet, the family photos and family security.
“I returned to the massive wreckage in deep despair. I walked over an ocean of black ash searching for answers. I noticed an old steel logging chain laying on the garage concrete floor, which was one of the only recognizable things not burned to ash.
“I pulled on the chain and angrily fought the soot and debris, as it anchored to the ground and after a defiant pull, it broke free.
“I felt angry, frightened, and standing alone, I hung my head low, looking down only to hear a slight ring. Melted to the middle of the chain was the bell, whistle and coin my uncle proudly carried.”
“I was frozen with emotion,” Steve continued. “Truly a divine moment, I felt as if I were set free. The chain I pulled were of the chains binding me. I had restored my faith. As I stood in the coal of my life, I rubbed the front and back, and looked over and over again for the spirit and message of hope it sacredly held. It’s not there, I cannot see the words, I cannot feel the warmth, and the spirit has faded.”
The support of his family, friends and his community are what keep the despair from swallowing him whole.
June 7 was the second time a fire swept through the Beltrans’ home, taking away many of their possessions.
The first in 2004, on Christmas Eve, when the Beltran family, who lived in Durand at the time, awoke and rushed out of their smoke-filled house with nothing, in 20 degrees below zero temperatures.
A faulty fireplace left them homeless then. The second fire would claim everything, including some of Steve’s faith.
To donate online, visit www.gofundme.com/a1xvhg.
To view the list of items needed, go to www.surveymonkey.com/s/Beltranfamily.
Funds can also be sent to the Beltran family to any of the branches of German American State Bank.
The Illinois Chapter of the Masons will match all funds collected from fellow members.
Contact Dave Bjorklund for more information at 815-289-8250.