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After 20 years of living in our house, I’ve gotten used to life in the country. Milk trucks lumber by on their way to the next farm; cows cross the road at predictable intervals, and metal-hauling trucks from a nearby plant barrel past the house on their way to the highway.

One night last week I was sitting on the couch reading, when my husband thought he heard a car door slam. He went to the window to check. Seconds later he yelled,

“The neighbor’s house is on fire!”

Schoolhouse 1 Dark

Man, that shock got me up in a hurry! After we watched for a few seconds, we realized it wasn’t our neighbor’s house burning, but an old brick one-room schoolhouse nearby that a man was renovating into a workshop. Flames towered over the burning structure, and trees were illuminated like skeletal fingers in the deep dark.

It was frightening.

We dialed 911. The dispatcher said that others had called, and rescue teams were on the way. Within a few minutes, our local fire department headed up the hill toward the schoolhouse, which by then was fully engulfed by raging flames.

Together, ten mostly volunteer fire departments clogged the road, with water-supply trucks slowly making their way toward the blaze to unload.

it was a bitterly cold night, with a steady blast of wind that blew licks of fire into the air. A sheriff stood at the bottom of the hill, waving orange glow sticks as he directed traffic.

In the middle of all that organized chaos, I realized how many people came together to fight a fire for someone they probably didn’t even know. They labored in the freezing cold for hours, unable to save the schoolhouse.

I don’t know how much longer the local newspaper will have photos up, but here are a few.

It’s not the first time we’ve had a fire in our neighborhood, either. A few years ago, another neighbors’ house really did burn. It was an old structure, formerly a dance hall and bar, converted to a private home. It went up like straw before our eyes.

The schoolhouse fire was the end of a different era, though. Another neighbor was born in and grew up in a large white farmhouse across the road from the schoolhouse. Before he died, he told me that he used to walk across the road to school, then back home again where his mother had lunch waiting. I imagined children, running around the school yard in the noonday sun before being summoned by a clanging bell, back to their desks.

It was the only schoolhouse for a few miles around, and children walked down our road to get there. Here’s what things looked like the next day.

Schoolhouse fire the next day 2