CLEAR LAKE | For nearly 20 years, Cindy Bartlett’s Britt home has been a family gathering place for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
But this year is different.
“It has been a rough couple weeks,” said Bartlett, 48.
Bartlett’s single-story house of 18 years at 361 Fifth St. SW and many of her belongings, including Christmas presents, were significantly damaged in a fire on Nov. 15.
The house, which was home to Bartlett, her pregnant daughter Amber and their three dogs Chyna, Kayos and Kitty, has been deemed uninhabitable due to smoke and water damage.
“It’s kind of hard knowing that the place I grew up is no longer livable,” Amber said. “Everything I’ve gone through I’ve gone through at that house.”
Bartlett said the fire, which began after 6 p.m., ignited after they heard a loud pop behind the TV in their living room and part of the house lost electricity.
In the minutes following, Bartlett attempted to extinguish the fire with water until the local volunteer firefighters arrived, while her daughter and the dogs escaped.
“I’ve been here for almost 18 years and never once had a problem with anything,” she said.
The Britt Fire Department was assisted by the West Hancock Ambulance Service and the Britt Police Department. Britt Public Works and Alliant Energy were also on the scene.
Bartlett, Amber and their dogs have been staying at Best Western Holiday Lodge in Clear Lake since the fire with the help of the American Red Cross and hotel staff.
“It’s not a full home, but it’s warm,” Amber said.
Bartlett, who is on Social Security with her daughter, said she didn’t have insurance on the house.
Years’ worth of furniture, clothes and other belongings were destroyed in the fire, as well as items, like clothes, toys and equipment, purchased for Amber’s baby due in February were smoke- and water-damaged.
Bartlett said they’ve sifted through the house “trying to get stuff out that we can save,” but a lot of it, especially her stuff, has been lost completely.
“It hurt seeing the pile where my Christmas tree would’ve sat under three feet of installation and ceiling tiles,” she said. “That really bothered me because I can’t hold my holidays there anymore.”
Fortunately, the stuff in the garage, including Bartlett’s car, wasn’t damaged and they’ve been able to recover some items from the house, like her daughters’ baby albums. Bartlett has another daughter Haley, 25, who lives in Garner.
But Bartlett and her daughter have had little — to no — success securing new housing and finding resources to get them back on their feet, which Bartlett said has been difficult given the time of year.
On Thanksgiving, Bartlett and Amber had turkey dinners from a nearby restaurant in their hotel rooms, instead of hosting a family gathering at their house.
“I just want to be home,” Bartlett said as her voiced cracked on the phone with the Globe Gazette Tuesday afternoon. “Pretty much all I got left is my dogs and my kids.”
Bartlett and Amber said they’ve reached out to individuals and organizations for assistance but “have hit a brick wall.”
“It’s just really hard knowing that you live in such a small town, you’d think people would come together and try to help you,” Amber said.
To help, Bartlett’s sister Eileen Olson of Duncombe started a GoFundMe page in hopes of raising $5,000 for her and her daughter.
“For them to be able to get back on their feet, they are going to need help, and lots of it,” Olson wrote on the GoFundMe page. “We need to get Amber back in a safe environment before her baby arrives.”
Amber said the last couple weeks have been stressful for her and her baby, but they remain healthy.
Bartlett is grateful for the help she’s already received from the hotel staff, her sister and her longtime friend, Cory Davis, but she knows the road ahead will be challenging.
“I’d just like to thank everybody (at Best Western) for everything that they’ve done for us,” Bartlett said through tears. “Any help right now is greatly appreciated.”
For those interested in helping the family, call Eileen Olson at 515-543-8174 or visit the “Sister lost everything in a fire 11/15/18” GoFundMe page for Cindy Bartlett-Hutchinson and her daughter, Amber.