“I got away with my life and a pair of joggers. That’s it,” said Darren Reiffenstein, who narrowly escaped a fire on Tuesday, February 5th that consumed the trailer where he lived in minutes.

“I fell asleep on the couch and when I woke up, it was on fire big time,” he said. “If I was in my bed, I probably wouldn’t be talking. The fire probably would have overwhelmed me.”

At first he didn’t understand what was happening or why he couldn’t see. Then he realized he was looking through a cloud of smoke.

“I couldn’t find door. I was lost for a little bit,” he said. “I ran down to the end where the woodstove was and I saw fire jumping out of the addition into the trailer and it was licking the roof of the trailer with fire… I seen a fireball coming at me so I dove out the door.”

Since the fire destroyed the home he had been renting and claimed the lives of both of his cats, Mr. Reiffenstein has been “surfing couches” and staying with friends.

“People have been outpouring their kindness to me, and it’s wonderful. It restores my faith in humanity, that’s for sure,” he said. “People are taking care of me pretty good.”

Jessie Blakley is one of those caretakers. She is organizing a fundraiser for Mr. Reiffenstein “to dance and celebrate the fact that he’s alive.”

She hopes “to get him his independence back” and help him replace his guitar and the tools he uses as a construction contractor.

“Anyone deserves to see who loves them,” she said, adding that after facing hardship “it’s often found that you have far more friends than you thought you did.”

Mr. Reiffenstein is moved by the community’s generosity.

“I just want to thank everybody for being so kind. Everybody asks me why I’m not depressed and bummed out and crying a lot, but if they saw what what I saw they’d be happy to get out. I’m quite happy,” he said. “I’m just lucky to be alive.”

The fundraiser for Mr. Reiffenstein will take place on Saturday, March 9th from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. at the Wilmer Community Hall. There is no admission fee. The fundraiser will include food, drinks, a silent auction and a performance by the Chisel Peak Blues Band. (Auction items are welcome. To donate, email [email protected].

Both Mr. Reiffenstein and Ms. Blakley implore residents to take all possible fire precautions. They want everyone to check their fire alarms, clean their chimney, know where their fire escapes are and be prepared.

“I’ve been making sure my stove is tickety boo, but something went up there,” Mr. Reiffenstein said. “Make sure you do fire drills. I am totally terrified of fire now. It only takes once.”