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'Pictures can be replaced, but we can't': Prescott family recovers after fire

Steve and Sharolynne "Sherry" Atkins, along with son Greg DuBois and daughter-in-law Joyce DuBois, lost their Prescott home to a devastating bedroom fire Jan. 25. Steve remains in a River Falls rehabilitation center while recovering from a December hip replacement and infection. The other three family members are temporarily residing with Steve's sister in Hudson. Submitted photo1 / 3
The north-facing bedroom seen here caught fire first, where Joyce DuBois found it eating up the walls and the mattress late on a Friday night. Submitted photo2 / 3
What's left of the bedroom wall where the fire was first found. Submitted photo3 / 3

Two Prescott women were preparing for bed and about to watch the ten o’clock news Friday night, Jan. 25, when the lights went out at their home on 1100th Street.

Both women, Joyce DuBois and mother-in-law Sharolynne “Sheri” Atkins fiddled with the breaker for awhile. Joyce, needing her glasses from the north-facing bedroom, left.

There in the bedroom, she was faced with flames.

“I heard her yell, ‘fire!’ and I just picked the phone up and called 9-1-1 and said ‘fire!’ and gave them my address,” Sheri said in a recent interview. “Flames were coming up the walls.”

Sheri had grabbed a fire extinguisher, but the fire was too strong for her and her daughter-in-law to fight.

“It was so dark you couldn’t see anything because there were no lights,” Sheri said. “We both were inhaling smoke and I couldn’t breathe.”

The women rounded up the dog and the cat and fled the house that was filling with smoke.

First responders arrived and took Joyce to the hospital with burns on her face, ears and leg. Sheri suffered from smoke inhalation, but refused to go to the hospital.

Meanwhile, Sheri’s husband Steve Atkins, the owner of the house, is still recuperating from a life-threatening infection after having a Dec. 29 hip replacement. He received news in person from Sheri the night following the fire just after returning from intensive care in River Falls.

“All I know after everything I had been through, it was not pleasant to hear that I didn’t have a home to go back to after I’m done here,” Steve said in an interview while sitting in a wheelchair in the lobby of Kinnic Health and Rehab.

Restricted by his own body, Steve still has not yet had a chance to return to his fire-damaged home as of Feb. 8. He has only received information about his house and his belongings through his family members, the fire department and the insurance adjuster.

“I can’t verify that everything’s a total loss. Everything on the other end (of the house) would have smoke damage,” Steve said.

Greg DuBois, Steve’s stepson and Joyce’s husband who was also living in the house, said he was impressed there was anything left at all.

“Thank god Joyce is alive and was awake that night,” Greg said. “I’m glad everybody is ok.”

Along with the costs of their losses at home, the Atkins family is struggling to pay for Steve’s temporary rehabilitation living.

“I figure I’m going to need a lot to rebuild a house. We can’t repair the house that’s there,” Steve said. “Now I’m spending $50 a day to stay here (in rehab).”

In the midst of this trying time, a former Stillwater high school classmate Jeff Carlson stepped in with some help. Steve has known Carlson since the eighth grade.

Not long before they were to have their 50th class reunion, Carlson began a GoFundMe page online to help raise money with a goal of $10,000 to donate to the victims’ cause. In 10 days, 48 people had raised a little over $3,000.

Steve said he wouldn’t have done it himself, but had a favorable reaction to Carlson’s act.

With Steve’s release date from rehabilitation unknown and Sheri, Joyce and Greg temporarily living with Steve’s sister Sarah Atkins in Hudson, the future is still cloudy.

Steve discussed ideas and hope of rebuilding a small, modest home starting this summer. He and Greg are skilled in carpentry, plumbing and electric, but Steve still has physical limitations.

“We’re not decided on anything, it’s still so new,” Sheri said. “I can’t believe I don’t have a home. The grandkids’ pictures can be replaced, but we can’t.”

People wishing to donate can search “Steve and Sheri need Angels” in the search bar at www.gofundme.com to make donations online.

Rachel Helgeson

Rachel Helgeson

(651) 301-7864
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