Four days after a garage fire devastated Kirk and Kerri Bandelin's Freeland house, the North Baltimore County community launched a massive search-and-rescue mission.
The house is uninhabitable after the Nov. 6 fire that destroyed the garage and part of the house. What didn't burn is now a sodden, sooty mess.
Some 75 volunteers arrived on Nov.10 to help with a salvage operation. The house is slated for demolition on Nov. 12, so there was no time to waste.
Neighbors, friends, relatives, teachers from Prettyboy Elementary School and Boy Scouts and leaders from Troop 523 pitched in.
The Bandelin children — Colton, 12, Caroline, 11 and 2-year-old Kameryn — spent the day away from their charred home.
"These are the most amazing people," Kerri Bandelin said as she watched cars, vans, trucks and trailers pull into her front yard. "I have no idea what we would do without them."
Volunteer donnned headlamps and facemasks and stepped cautiously into the scorched house. They came out carrying chairs, tables, the dining room hutch, wooden shelves, a dollhouse, treadmill, pots, pans and dozens and dozens of plastic bins filled with keepsakes and holiday decorations.
Items went into three piles: trash, immediate cleaning and professional restoration.
A group of women set up long tables on the front lawn and sorted through the bins, boxes of photos, children's toys and small household goods.
They emptied each bin and put whatever didn't smell smoky into a new bin. The old bins were thrown away because they had absorbed toxins from heavy smoke.
"Oh, those are my grandmother's crystal glasses," Kerri Bandelin said as Michele Stylc, third-grade teacher at Prettyboy Elementary School, held up two wine goblets. Stylc rubbed them down with bleach and cocooned them in bubble wrap.
"Nope. We have to pitch those. The toxins got into the foam," Kerri Bandelin said when shown two maroon football helmets from her husband's days at Hereford High School.
The same fate awaited other sentimental items, like a hand-embroidered Christmas table runner and a handmade First Communion banner that Kerri Bandelin's mother, Maureen Gough showed her. They both had black splotches from soot.
Kirk Bandelin and a group of men sifted through the remains of the garage, looking for any metal that could at least be sold to a salvage yard.
They loaded up the family's blackened washer, dryer and grill, mangled garage door and warped metal shelves while the Bandelins' two basset hounds slept nearby, tied to a backyard tree.
Neighbor and friend Stacy Little organized the day. She sent out a mass email to families at Prettyboy Elementary School, where the two older Bandelin children went to school.
Little rounded up cleaning supplies, latex gloves and facemasks. She asked for people to give up a Saturday, donate food for the workers, or give gift cards, cash, clothes or new plastic bins.
She got it all.
"This community has dropped us to our knees with their generosity," said Jill Bandelin, married to Kirk's brother, Jim.
By day's end, the crews packaged 120 bins for storage; all filled with pieces of the Bandelins' lives they never would have had time to save.
The Bandelin family is currently looking to rent a house in the Hereford school zone. Anyone who has housing information or who wants to help the family is asked to e-mail Stacy Little at email@example.com.