What do you do when a fire destroys your home and everything you own? For Walton resident Casey Olsen, the answer is simple.
"You just have to pick up and go. Everything in the house is immaterial; it can be replaced," Olsen said. "You can't dwell on the past, because that doesn't do any good, so you just have to move on."
Moving on is what Olsen is trying to do after an accidental fire (with the furnace being identified as the cause) took away his home and his belongings, as well as one of his dogs — the only casualty of the fire — on Dec. 1.
Olsen noted he awoke in the early morning hours that day to find his house (101 Michelle Dr., Walton) filled with smoke and his smoke detectors blaring, which he admits saved his life. After getting his other dog out of the house, Olsen went around to his neighbors and was able to place a call to 911 around 6:30 a.m.
Walton Fire responded, with Newton Fire/EMS, Hesston Fire/EMS, the Harvey County Sheriff's Office and the Harvey County Community Chaplain Response Team assisting on the call. Both Olsen and Walton Fire Chief Merlyn Johnson categorized the extent of the damage as a "total loss," with Olsen noting both the kitchen and bathroom floors caved in amid the fire.
"You can see the dirt underneath the house, so it was pretty bad," Olsen said.
The fire departments spent an hour and a half battling the blaze and now Olsen, the lone resident of the home, waits for the inspectors to do their work before assessing what all is needed to set up a new home, noting he intends to stay in the town in which he grew up — with the incident on Dec. 1 giving him some perspective on what it means to still have that opportunity.
"I could've been gone, but I'm still here," Olsen said. "It makes you have a different outlook on life after you go through something like that."
Fulfilling those needs will not be something Olsen has to take on alone, though, as the Walton community has been quick to rally behind him. Shortly after the incident, Walton City Clerk Stephanie Ashby said she was approached by a couple of citizens wanting to know how they could help. That led Ashby to spearhead an effort to start a clothing drive — what Olsen noted is his greatest need — through the city offices.
Ashby herself has experienced what Olsen was gone through, seeing her family home burn down at age 6, which made it easy for her to rally around the idea of getting the community together and involved in supporting one of its own.
"He wasn't out there in the public very much, but I want to kind of show him that we are a small community and we will stand by him, even in the bad days," Ashby said. "We all have our bad days, and it's nice to be able to know that there's somebody out there holding your hand. Even though you may not want the help, it'd be nice to know somebody's out there willing to do it for you."
"That's the way Walton is," Johnson added. "We try to help the people, and he's been a resident — on and off — pretty much his whole life."
Donations of clothes can be dropped off at the Walton city offices between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday over the next couple of weeks, though pick up can also be arranged by contacting Ashby through Facebook, by phone (620-837-3252) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Clothing sizes requested are 2XL shirts, 38-inch by 32-inch jeans and socks size 10-12, while Ashby noted items are also being taken for Olsen's remaining pet.
"I didn't expect anything less from Walton," Olsen said. "The community's always been good since I was a kid; we've always taken care of each other, so it's nice to see."