Michelle Konecki watched the house she has lived in for almost 5 years burn Wednesday. The Christmas tree in her living room caught fire shortly after 11:30 a.m., and the flames quickly spread to a nearby couch. Elgin's code department ultimately declared the house uninhabitable -- Konecki can only enter the home during daylight hours until repairs are made.
Konecki lives with her sister, husband, four of her children and a grandchild plus their pets -- three dogs and a lizard that were saved from the fire as well. Wednesday night the family is staying at a hotel but Konecki said she doesn't have any family in the area to turn to.
"I don't know what I'll do come 11 a.m. checkout time tomorrow," Konecki said late Wednesday afternoon.
Elgin firefighters arrived at the house in the 1300 block of Sheffield Drive just three minutes after they were dispatched.
Elgin Fire Department Battalion Chief Timothy Michaels said the fire was under control in less than 30 minutes but not before it had caused extensive smoke and heat damage throughout the entire home.
Michaels said the occupants were out of the house by the time the fire trucks arrived. Konecki's sister, who was home with three of the kids at the time of the fire, called 911.
"She heard a pop from the living room and when she went in there she saw some smoke coming from the bottom of the Christmas tree," Michaels said.
When firefighters arrived, smoke was pouring out the front window, which had shattered from the heat of the fire.
There were no injuries to residents or firefighters, who cleared the scene shortly after 1 p.m.
Konecki said she has always been the one to help others, working with seniors for Salvation Army and volunteering in the community. But in this situation, the 38-year-old woman was starting to despair.
"It's a week before Christmas," Konecki said. "I feel displaced and lost."
Konecki had insurance on her home and believes the cost of repairs will be covered, but she is not sure how much, if anything, she will get for her family's personal items inside the house.
Konecki said there was extensive damage to the interior of the house with a hole in the kitchen roof. But the foundation is still sound. She got an estimate that repairs could take six to eight months and, in the meantime, she needs to find somewhere for her family to live -- even while she continues paying her monthly mortgage.
Konecki is hoping for some assistance from the Red Cross, though she did not receive any help immediately after the fire, she said.
If anyone is interested in helping the family with temporary housing or immediate care needs like food and clothing, Konecki asks that you email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ideas or recommendations for organizations Konecki can turn to for help also would be appreciated.
"I feel like I'm homeless with my kids," Konecki said. "There is no worse feeling in the world. The stability that my children had is completely gone."