Anger, despair, confusion and heartbreak are all expected following a devastating house fire, but the most prominent feeling in Dan and Eileen Quigley’s hearts this week was gratitude.
A raging fire broke out just before 3:10 p.m. on Monday, July 4, in their home in Millville. Almost immediately after a neighbor’s 911 call, Sussex County EMS members and firefighters from the Millville, Bethany and Roxana fire companies responded to the fire.
According to Bob Powell, public information officer for the Millville Volunteer Fire Company, approximately 100 firefighters, on scene and on stand-by, from a total of 11 fire companies, including Frankford, Dagsboro and Rehoboth, assisted in putting out the blaze.
With the exception of the Sussex County paramedics, Powell said, all the responders were volunteers from the community.
No injuries were reported, and all occupants made it out of the home safely. According to Jeannette Saneholtz, Eileen Quigley’s sister, the fire started in the second level of the home and completely destroyed three bedrooms, a bathroom and an additional room upstairs while causing significant damage to the other portions of the structure.
“I happened to be on the back porch when I heard the fire crackling,” said Eileen Quigley, who lived in the home with her husband, Dan. “And it’s such a God thing – because why would I be sitting out there? It was so hot!”
After getting up to determine the source of the crackling sound, Eileen Quigley stated, the most horrible picture she had ever seen burned before her.
“My first thought was, ‘Get a hose! Get that out!’ But it was starting to barrel out the top of the house,” she said.
According to fire officials, the blaze caused an estimated $350,000 in damage to the home the Quigleys have continuously opened to friends, family, and even strangers in need, throughout the past nine years.
Despite the costly tragedy, Dan and Eileen Quigley were able to recover something while sifting through the charred rubble of their home – something they knew they would never lose: hope.
“My mom always told me, ‘Eileen, your worst day on this earth is most people in the world’s best day,’” Quigley recalled, explaining her optimism amid hardship. “Dan and I – we could have been at a funeral today or tomorrow. We’re really just celebrating what we have.”
In conjunction with the support of friends, family and church members, financial assistance from the Red Cross, Eileen Quigley’s gardening club and the homeowner’s association have already started the Quigleys on a road to recovering from their loss.
According to Eileen Quigley, ordinarily small things – friends washing and returning the family’s laundry, a neighbor providing a temporary home for their dog, and her fellow Master Gardeners keeping her plants alive – have brought the Quigleys extraordinary joy and gratitude.
“Our gratefulness is just so much bigger than the losses,” Eileen Quigley said. “This is a tragedy, but we’ve had so many wonderful days, and there will be good days again.”
Looking through a second-story Palladian window in the remaining skeleton of the home’s singed facade, lush green trees and blue skies are now visible, reflective of the Quigleys sanguinity and plans for a new beginning.
“I’ve learned in life that when you have a crisis, if you feel like you have hope, then you can take another step forward,” Eileen Quigley said of their plans to rebuild.
Fulfilling their dream to live at the beach, the Quigleys built their home nine years ago to be a place for other people to be blessed. Insurance coverage and financial support from the community will enable them to reconstruct in the coming months.
“When something bad happens, you have to think, ‘This is the day the Lord has made – let us rejoice and be glad in it,’” said Saneholtz, mirroring her sister’s hopefulness.
Eileen Quigley expressed that she was eternally grateful for all of the fire responders and people who lent assistance in the days following the tragedy, and that her greatest desire was not for their own recovery but for the recovery of others in the community also going through hardship – that good would come from misfortune.
As of Sunday, the cause of the fire had not been determined. Smoke detectors were present in the home and functioning, and the fire remained under investigation.
Donations to help the Quigleys recover from the loss of their home can be sent to P.O. Box 214, Ocean View, DE 19970.
“We really are broken,” Eileen Quigley admitted. “But we’re getting to the point where each day we have a few more happy moments and laughs. It’s very painful, but it’s part of healing.”