Miranda Rupert was playing outside with her three children when the fire started.
Her brother’s girlfriend came running out from Rupert’s Bellefonte apartment, distressed. “Your apartment is on fire,” she told Rupert, who made a circuit of the stairs to check the situation. Smoke had engulfed the kitchen, unfurling in inky clouds throughout the second-floor walk-up. By the time it had ceased, most of her appliances were beyond repair.
She dialed 911.
“By the time I got down here, the fire alarms were going off,” Rupert said. “Everyone was evacuating the building.”
The family’s dinner plans had gone awry. Rupert cried, said she was panicking. Everyone got out safely, though, and the fire was quickly contained — facts that would reveal themselves in time. In the moment, her anxiety flared as fast as the flames.
The firefighters told her “Miranda, calm down; we’ve seen worse,” as they hugged her.
“I wasn’t worried about what I’d lost,” she said, “as long as everyone was OK.”
It was the first fire she had experienced. Part of her ceiling, hollowed and charred, now exposed its wire-and-steel entrails. Her refrigerator needed replaced. Her food was deemed unsafe to eat.
“I did not honestly think that smoke could do that much damage,” Rupert said.
The fire had left her apartment untenable. Since July 8, the night of, Rupert has been living with her sister a floor up. It’s been a tight fit: Her sister, already a mother, is expecting her second child. Add Morgan, Mercedes and Edison, Rupert’s trio, and finding normalcy again becomes more exigent by the day.
But thankfully, she said, there’s been help. Not only firefighters have been embracing her family in their time of need.
After the fire, she called Council Nedd, the Ferguson Township constable and bishop of St. Alban’s Anglican Church. He asked his parish to marshal support, and then contacted Centre County Sheriff Bryan Sampsel to see if he would be interested in helping Rupert’s family.
“It was a no-brainer,” Nedd said.
Nedd saw photos of the singed countertops and skeletal ceiling on Facebook.
“That’s how I knew how serious it was,” he said. “Sometimes you have grease fires you just put the lid on it, but I saw the pictures and thought ‘wow, that’s pretty serious.’ ”
Rupert’s recourse rallied quickly. Among the gifts were a stuffed toy dog, several small appliances and more than one box of Fruity Pebbles, a family favorite. There were enough groceries and home goods to fill Nedd’s Jeep Grand Cherokee, which sat outside Rupert’s apartment complex Friday afternoon.
With its cargo unloaded, the group laughed and traded banter.
Sampsel grinned under his sunglasses, sweating in the afternoon heat. He’d brought juice boxes for Rupert’s kids along with the floppy-eared toy dog.
“I have a box I just keep at the office for these occasions,” he said. “Instead of throwing (the toys) out and letting them go to waste, we can give them to other kids who need them.”
Before Nedd headed back to his Jeep, he cradled a pair of thank-you cards Rupert’s daughters had made for him and the parish. Nedd, whose father and brother were police officers in Washington, D.C., said the cards will be posted in the church and eventually make their way to his office.
He smiled as he held them aloft.
“I know people get into this business because they care about the community,” he said.
Rupert thanked him before he left. The fire behind her, she hopes to move back to her apartment by next week. The intervening days have been tough, she said, but made easier with the support of the community.
“We’re praying, hoping,” she said. “We’re ready to come back.”
Roger Van Scyoc: 814-231-4698, @rogervanscy