- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - If there was anything that Edilyn Domenden didn’t expect to get out of a tragedy that destroyed her home and displaced her family, it was a lifelong friend.

But that is what she found in Cari VanOsdol, the woman who has led the cause to bring meals, supplies, clothing and money for housing to Domendon’s family of 10 after a fire wreaked havoc at the home.

Early in the morning of Sept. 10, Salem Fire responded to the house in the 1100 block of Madison Street NE and found a fire burning from the back of the home. Somehow, Domendon, her husband Joaquin and their eight children escaped safely.

The children are ages 1 through 17, and Domenden is pregnant with the couple’s ninth child.

She remembers taking a look around the house around 10 p.m. the night before the fire, after everyone else had gone to bed, to make sure everything was all right.

The next morning, a little before 6 a.m., she said the family scurried out of the house when they realized there was fire. She had her hands full with the youngest girls, Destiny, 1, and Angel, 2; her oldest son, Alladin, 17, grabbed his younger brothers and sisters and ran. Joaquin attempted to save more items inside the house, she said, but there was no time.

“It was so overwhelming, trying to make sure all the kids were out,” Domendon said.

All 10 got out of the house around the time fire crews arrived. About 35 firefighters and nine engines from a number of local agencies assisted with the three-alarm fire.

Domendon said all of them stood outside, facing the burning house in shock.

“We just came out with the clothes on our body,” Domendon said.

Laird Case, an investigator with Salem Fire, said the fire originated underneath the back deck of the house. A box of recyclable material caught fire from what the department believes may have been a discarded cigarette. The box likely smoldered for hours before spreading to the house, Case said.

Case estimates the fire caused $100,000 in damage to the house and another $20,000 to the contents. He said it will depend on an assessment from an insurance company to see whether the house will be rebuilt or torn down.

On that first day, the American Red Cross responded to the fire and provided assistance. They helped the family get temporary lodging in two separate rooms at the Shilo Inn, Domenden said.

But the Red Cross could pay for the family’s stay for only a few days. Luckily, a group of community members, namely from the JROTC program that Alladin and 14-year-old Crystalynn participate in at North Salem High School, stepped up to the task.

First Sgt. Jim Wagner, JROTC instructor and a football coach at North Salem, read the Statesman Journal story about the fire and recognized Alladin’s name.

“I did what I do,” Wagner said.

He posted information about the fire and the family’s situation on an alumni page. This sparked contributions from several people as well as involvement from VanOsdol, who met Domenden when she visited the family’s hotel room. Though the two previously lived blocks apart before the fire and their children went to the same school, they had never met.

“We had a big cry fest when we first met.,” VanOsdol said.

After holding in emotions for a couple days and trying to be strong for her family, Domenden cried.

VanOsdol has since spearheaded support and contributions for the family. Aside from the donation accounts, her house has turned into a storage unit for item donations, including baby food and clothing.

“A lot of money to pay for their hotel is coming out of personal pockets,” VanOsdol said. “We’d like to get them in a house…They have to start over with kitchen stuff and all the little things.”

For Domenden, who doesn’t have any relatives or friends in the Salem area outside of her immediate family, it was like a friend came out of the woodwork.

“For me it was like someone reached out and became my family. She’s the closest family,” Turning to VanOsdol she said. “It felt like I’ve known you forever.”

VanOsdol, in a teary response said, “I didn’t expect to get a friend out of this. I have an emotional connection.”

If it weren’t for North Salem High School’s JROTC and the greater community, Domenden doesn’t think the family would have made it.

And Wagner, with regards to the culture of the program, said that the support was a natural response.

“These cadets are ours. It’s our job to take care of them.”

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Donations for the Domenden family can be made online at https://www.gofundme.com/ejnmwg or at any US Bank branch under the name Joaquin Domenden.

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Information from: Statesman Journal, https://www.statesmanjournal.com

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