Neighbors reach out to help after fire in Augusta, Georgia
By: David Ibata
Homeless clients of The Salvation Army Center of Hope in Augusta, Georgia, were settling into the overnight shelter on Friday evening, Jan. 25 when everyone was startled by a loud crack. They looked outside and saw sparks flying out of a utility closet as the fire alarm went off.
Everyone – 172 men, women and children and the adult male residents of the corps salvage and recovery center – flew out the doors. Within minutes, the Augusta Fire Department was on the scene to extinguish a blaze that had broken out in an electrical box.
No one was hurt, and the cinderblock building was saved; but the place had the acrid stench of an electrical fire, and the sprinklers had gone off. Until the mess could be cleaned up and electricity restored, the shelter would be unusable.
With some of the coldest nights of the winter approaching, where would everyone go?
“Everyone went to the Kroc Center,” said Christopher Bailey, in the Marketing Department of the Augusta Area Command. “We divided our main banquet hall into two separate rooms, one for women, the other for men and our CSRC fellows, and we used our music rooms for families.”
The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, about a mile from the Center of Hope, answered the demand for immediate shelter, and its kitchen was able to feed everyone. As word of the fire went out on the news and social media, the Augusta community quickly came to the rescue.
“The Red Cross brought over 150 cots and some of their comfort kits,” Bailey said. “Walmart provided us with breakfast the next day, because our supplies at the center were damaged when the sprinklers came on. Another company, A&A Food and Beverage, provided snacks, and the Golden Harvest Food Bank sent over at least a truckload of food.”
The Kroc Center was a temporary solution. It could house people for a few days, but there were community classes, activities and events booked into the facility. Early estimates had Center of Hope repairs taking from four weeks to four months.
In an answer to prayer, a crew from the Allison-Smith Co. LLC electrical engineering firm arrived. They inspected every wire and salvaged most of the system, “and by the next day – I don’t know how they pulled it off – they had a new electrical box delivered by truck, and they went to work,” Bailey said.
Friday afternoon, Feb. 1 – one week after the fire – “they had us 100 percent ready to go.”
Servpro, the fire and flood recovery company, cleaned up the smoke and water damage. Staff washed the linens and the place was ready for client check-ins Saturday afternoon.
“The community really pulled together,” Bailey said. “It was very satisfying to see people move so quickly to be sure everyone was OK.”