“They Would Ask: What Do You Need?”

Red Cross volunteer welcomed help and hope after devastating home fire

Sterling Molby and his two children survived a home fire experienced a devastating home fire in northern Minnesota. Submitted photo.

On the day Sterling Molby answered my call he was busy, very busy, searching for anything he could save from the debris being turned over during cleanup of his burned home before winter took hold of northern Minnesota. His dwelling was, for the most part, reduced to ash that needed to be boxed and shipped to a place that would accept it. He hunted for, and found, a small steel box with photos.

“I’m watching to see if anything is salvageable,” Molby said.

Looking through to the remains of Sterling Molby’s home. Photo: Athena Thomsen

The fire happened in October on a Saturday evening after he grilled steaks for his two children who ate up and then went to the basement to watch TV. Molby, upstairs and in a ‘food coma,’ noticed an orange glow outside on the deck and ran to get some blankets that he used to smother the flames of what quickly become an inferno engulfing his home. He ran to his children and together they fled to a neighbor. A 30-mile-an-hour western wind ramped the flames and made looking back a pain he never thought he’d experience.

“I checked on my kids again, sat in the front yard and watched my house burn,” Molby said.

“Local help has made the devastation a little easier,” said Sterling Molby, whose home, in Brainerd, Minnesota, burned down in October, 2022. Photo: Athena Thomsen

Molby knows tough times. He served on two deployments with the U.S. Army in Iraq where he witnessed the impact of explosives. He worked for years finding places to live for homeless veterans. These experiences led him to becoming an American Red Cross volunteer supporting blood collection as a drive coordinator for eleven years. Molby “knows how amazing the Red Cross is,” having been there, especially during his military service, seeing people use Red Cross services and being around it.

“I feel like I’m helping saving lives and what I do has value,” Molby said.

So, when a firefighter told him to call the Red Cross he did without hesitation and spoke to a disaster responder who gathered information and details about the fire and making sure Molby and his children had a place to stay. Within thirty minutes he received financial assistance for temporary lodging and other immediate relief. Red Cross responders followed up in the days after asking what, if anything, his family needed. He’s grateful for support from the Red Cross and other community groups, particularly those for veterans.

“The outreach has been humbling. Local help has made the devastation a little easier,” Molby said.

Since the fire, the ups and down have been as a friend told him they would be. Molby’s doing what he can to be there for his children during this traumatic event and its aftermath while also moving ahead with plans to rebuild. The fire spared his garage and woodworking tools, which he’ll use to start making his home, again

Story by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross. Click here to learn more about and to support the work of Red Cross in Minnesota and the Dakotas.

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