MULLICA TOWNSHIP — Sharon Auger was asleep in the living room of her Fifth Avenue home when she heard a pop.
Thinking it was just neighbors outside firing cork guns, she ignored it.
Then she smelled rubber burning.
Then the fire alarms went off.
“Jeanie,” Auger, 52, recalled thinking, referring to her disabled 28-year-old daughter, “because she couldn’t just get up and walk out. I called 911 and screamed for everybody.”
Auger’s home caught fire before 8 a.m. Thursday. Police said they saw flames coming from a second-floor bedroom. Four adults and five children were inside at the time, all of whom escaped without injury.
Seemingly without hesitation, Auger’s 13-year-old daughter, Chelsey Daily, and 12-year-old grandson, Daniel Ramirez, ran to Jeanie’s room when the reality of the situation set in. They lifted her from bed, placed her in her wheelchair and exited the room.
Auger couldn’t believe the presence of mind of the children.
“I guess they just got some strength from somewhere,” she said. “I don’t know how they did it.
“(Chelsey) is that kind of kid anyway that would help anybody out, but for her in a mindset to do something like that is just amazing.”
As of Saturday, the family was staying at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center City Campus, awaiting placement in a temporary residence. Auger said a fire inspector informed her that while the cause of the fire had not been determined, they suspect it was electrical.
State fire officials are investigating.
The family didn’t have homeowners insurance, so Auger isn’t sure what will happen next. Her first priority is to secure housing to which she can bring Jeanie.
“I’ve taken care of her for 28 years at home,” Auger said. “Everybody has a place to lay their head, and they’re welcome to stay there until this works out, but the hospital won’t let me bring her home until I have the equipment.”
Auger especially doesn’t want Jeanie to go to a long-term care facility right now because of the risks of COVID-19.
Bayada Home Health Care has worked with the Auger family for 20 years to help provide Jeanie with the skilled medical attention she requires. Two employees, Brandi Endicott, Jeanie’s nurse, and Sherry Toussaint are trying to help the family through a GoFundMe page.
“They’re one of the strongest families I know,” Endicott said. “Although she’s got her whole family and her disabled daughter to think of, she’s the first person to think of you and what you need. If Jeanie were to be put in long-term care, that would be devastating for them. They’ve worried about so much for so long, we want them to catch a break.”
Toussaint said everyone knows Sharon is the type to give you the shirt off her own back.
“She would always give anything she had,” Toussaint said. “They’ve always taken in people, stray animals. They’ve always been the family that would help any way they could.”
Auger volunteers with the food bank at Pinelands United Methodist Church, 4-H, Girl Scouts, and is a member of the Sweetwater Volunteer Fire Company Ladies Auxillary, which helps families in situations like hers.
Toussaint is working with companies to secure replacement medical supplies for Jeanie, whose medical equipment was destroyed in the fire.
In the meantime, Auger is treading water.
“Until we can get everything replaced, we’re just sitting here,” she said. “I’ve never done this before, so I’m kinda winging it.”
Endicott Engineering has volunteered their services to assess the house, after which she’ll have a better idea of what the future holds. When realtors’ offices open Monday, she hopes to find a place to live in the interim.
“I appreciate everything that everybody is doing,” Auger said.
She said the amount of clothing donations she’s received is unbelievable.
“Sometime down the road, maybe this winter, I’ll sit and write a bunch of thank-you notes,” she said. “It sounds crazy because my house burned down, but I’m blessed. We all got out, and that’s a blessing to me.”
The GoFundMe page set up for the family can be found here.