They lost everything in a wave of fire and still call themselves rich.
Sandy and Cor van der Meer’s red-and-white, two-story house was one of eight homes destroyed by the West Plains wildfire that ravaged 3,000 acres about two months ago.
On Sunday, the couple returned to their scorched property near Garfield and Seven Mile roads with more than a hundred friends in laborers’ clothing.
The volunteers replaced the fence around 15 of the van der Meers’ 40 acres, so the couple’s three horses and one goat can return home. The workers also started building a new pump house.
Cor van der Meer, the soccer coach for Community Colleges of Spokane, and Sandy van der Meer, concession manager for the colleges, said the outpouring of support makes them feel wealthy.
“We never realized so many people cared,” said Cor van der Meer, 61. “From the time the fire started, there’ve been people here helping.”
Especially Sunday, when even the chief executive officer and the athletic director of the community colleges grabbed hammers and gloves. Soccer players and concession workers turned out in droves. Some may even have had ulterior motives.
“Playing time,” one soccer player joked as he walked by a table of food.
“It’s coach,” explained player Holly Vanwert, 18. “I know he’d do it for me if anything happened to my house.”
More benefits are planned. The van der Meers plan to build a new home in the old one’s grave, now a dirt hole covered in heavy machinery tracks. The home was insured, but volunteers want to help cover the extra costs of rebuilding.
A $10-a-plate benefit dinner and auction will be held Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the Spokane Falls Community College stadium. An all-day soccer tournament is scheduled Nov. 2 at SFCC.
“He does a lot for the team,” said soccer player Andy Bruno, 20, flipping a hammer in his right hand. “We figured since he lost everything, it’s no skin off our backs to come out here and help.”
On Aug. 11, the day the fire started, the van der Meers worried about the heat and the wind. Sandy told her husband, “If anybody even lights a match today, we’re going to have problems.”
That afternoon, she was working at a Spokane Shadow soccer game when her husband called to tell her about the blaze. He said it wasn’t near, don’t worry.
Then the wind shifted 90 degrees, blowing the flames toward their home.
“It just came rolling down this hill like a wave, a wave of fire, and then I realized I was in serious trouble,” Cor van der Meer said.
He called his wife, who rushed home. Neighbors carted off the couple’s animals. Sandy van der Meer ran from room to room, trying to salvage important things, like photographs, paintings and her grandfather’s dining room set.
Afterward, the van der Meers sifted through the ashes, saving two plastic bins full of melted glass, fused china, a horse bookend and a broken ceramic head that Sandy van der Meer used to show off her hats.
“All there was left standing was the fireplace,” she said.
Their new home will take about six months to build.
Until then, the van der Meers might need a scorecard to keep track of all the people who’ve helped them.
“I’ve just been mind-boggled all day, with the amount of help we’ve had,” said Sandy van der Meer, 52.
“It’s very humbling.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo