TOWN OF OTTAWA - A family of three — soon to be four — is searching for a new home after a fire destroyed theirs on Tuesday, Feb. 7.
Neither Melissa nor Al Cartwright were home when the fire broke out shortly after 10 a.m. Before it was all over, the flames and associated smoke damage rendered their home uninhabitable. Now, they are looking for a new place to live for their growing family, which includes 4-year-old Annalise and German short-haired pointer Toby. They are expecting a second daughter in May.
And, while a building inspector has said the home can be rebuilt, for now the family needs somewhere to stay.
No one was home
The night before the fire, Al had moved a truck into the garage and hooked a vehicle battery charger to it.
The two normally work from home, but on the day of the fire Melissa had to go to a meeting. Annalise was in class at St. Bruno's Parish School. Al was initially home doing paperwork that morning, but left for about 15 minutes, taking Toby with him.
As Al returned, he could see flames shooting from the backside of the garage. He quickly called 911 and stood back as help arrived.
"The fire became being massively worse," Melissa said.
According to a news release from the Dousman Fire Department, multiple explosions were heard from the garage, which had propane tanks and other compressed gas cylinders inside. The first engine arrived at the scene at 10:27 a.m. and began a defensive exterior attack on the fire, but the flames ultimately spread to the kitchen and living room, where they were contained.
Two firefighters were treated at the scene for minor injuries.
Numerous area departments assisted at the fire: city of Oconomowoc, Dousman, North Prairie, Stone Bank, town of Delafield, town of Rome, town of Sullivan, town of Waukesha, Eagle, Helenville, Lake Country, Okauchee and Wales/Genesee.
Officials told the couple the fire likely originated in the engine bay, from the battery charger. A building inspector has told them the home can be rebuilt.
A community steps in to help
As the Cartwrights walked through their home after the fire was put out, Melissa wore a special mask because of her pregnancy. What they saw was heartbreaking. Anything that wasn't in the path of the fire had been destroyed by smoke and water damage.
"It was tough, nothing was there. Nothing was salvageable," Melissa said.
Melissa said St. Bruno's Parish School has been generous. She remembered calling the school, crying, as she told them about the fire. Her main goal was to keep Annalise calm. Shortly after the call, the principal and a lead teacher were at her home, asking for their clothing sizes. The staff shopping during their breaks and bought clothing for the family.
"We only had the clothes on our backs," Melissa said.
Annalise gave a speech to her class about the fire. She told her classmates there was water everywhere, and it was not safe to be there. The little girl also mentioned that the family was staying with relatives, but Toby had to stay at a separate relative's home.
Melissa explained what they really need right now is a home or apartment to rent that accepts dogs. The Cartwrights also want to get their daughter settled in a home and start preparing for the baby's arrival.
The expectant mom misses Toby, who has been with the family for a long time.
"We just can't abandon him because we had a house fire," she said.
Melissa noted that Toby has been timid since she became pregnant. After the fire, he seemed to sense that something was not right. Toby wanted to be close to her yesterday, as if to make sure she was fine.
Fundraiser set up
Go Fund Me account, www.gofundme.com/al-melissa-cartwright-fire-fund, has been set up to raise money for the family. As of Monday morning, $6,285 of the family’s $7,500 goal had been raised.
“I don’t know what to say. It is amazing all the people that have been responding,” Melissa said.
A fundraiser is also being planned for 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, at 18 West, W325 S1767 Mickle Road, Delafield. 18 West will donate 5 percent of all food purchases to the family, along with $5 for every $25 gift card purchase.
Another fundraiser is set for 2 p.m. Sunday, March 12, at 18 West. The event will include live music, a 50-50 raffle and silent auction. Brunch will be $14 per person, $10 for ages 5-12. $2 of every brunch will be donated, along with $5 for every $25 gift card purchased.
Melissa said her husband is well-known around the Ottawa and Dousman area for his seasonal business, Al's Lawn Care Plus.
Melissa explained that Al has cerebral palsy and had trouble finding a job. But through hard work, he was able to get his business going on his own.
The family knows through determination and hard work they will get back on their feet again.
"Today we woke up feeling very grateful that we are all still here," Melissa said.