By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FLORENCE - This Memorial Day Wendy Kampsen is giving thanks her family is still alive - even if they can't sleep together tonight.
A fire swept through their home Tuesday morning, destroying everything they owned - except for the Christmas decorations stored in an outdoor shed. Kampsen said the blaze started when her 21/2-year-old grandson, whom she is raising, got hold of a lighter.
"The house is no longer there. Nothing but ashes," said Kampsen, 37. "We lost everything. We didn't even have any shoes."
Kampsen, who didn't have fire insurance, said she has no place to go that can house the whole family, which includes three boys, a 16-year-old girl and the grandson.
The American Red Cross put the family up at the Knights Inn South in Florence for three nights. The Community Action Agency then paid for two nights at the Wildwood Inn Tropical Dome & Theme Suites in Florence.
But the aid ran out Sunday. The family expected to spend Sunday night split up between friends and relatives, with no clear plan for long-term housing.
YOU CAN HELP
Donations to the family can be made to the Wendy Kampsen Benefit Fund at any Fifth Third Bank.
"This fire has made me feel so helpless," Kampsen said. "I'm the type of person to take charge, but it seems like the fire has taken charge of me."
On Friday morning, the charred foundation of her former two-story frame home was still smoldering on Beaver Road in Union, south of Big Bone Lick State Park. The one thing left standing was a brick chimney. The only signs that someone had lived at the location were lawn chairs in the back yard.
Kampsen rented the house in May after a bank foreclosed on her home on Todd Drive in Burlington.
"We went to the house in Union to try to rebuild our lives," Kampsen said, "and now this happened."
Everyone escaped the fire without injury except for Kampsen. She has third-degree burns over the lower half of her right leg. Her grandson caught the couch on fire while she took a nap after coming home from work. Kampsen woke up with the comforter draped over her legs ablaze. She tried to pull it off, but the fabric had already melted to her limbs.
Soon, the entire couch was on fire. The house was engulfed in seven minutes.
Kampsen, who has worked for 10 years at Chicago Rawhide in Hebron, said she has been placed on disability until her leg heals. She has to replace the bandages that wrap her leg twice a day. Doctors say they will know if she needs skin grafts in about three weeks.
Friends and agencies have helped.
The Cincinnati Red Cross gave her $350 for new clothes. On Friday afternoon, her motel room contained everything the family owned: a new cooler, a portable radio and compact disk player, and a laundry basket of new clothes - many with the labels still on.
"At least we have clothes on our backs," Kampsen said. "That's a little better than how we were doing on Tuesday."
Paula Swim, 39, of Florence has been splitting her time between caring for her husband, who has cancer, and Kampsen, who she describes as a friend from childhood.
"My main focus is to find a place for Wendy and her family to live," Swim said.
Kampsen's 16-year-old stepdaughter, Rachel Kampsen, is seven months pregnant and lost everything for her unborn daughter - including the crib - in the fire. But doctors say the smoke she inhaled didn't harm her child.
"I just want to make sure I keep my kids together," Kampsen said. "I could live in a mansion, but without my children there, I wouldn't be happy."
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