U student, family recover after house fire

Changchua, left, and Hue Yang, right, stand in front of their house that burned down on January 28th. They are without insurance and lost nearly everything they owned in the fire.

Chris Roberts

Changchua, left, and Hue Yang, right, stand in front of their house that burned down on January 28th. They are without insurance and lost nearly everything they owned in the fire.

Thomas Yang was taking a shower in his Forest Lake home on Jan. 28 when he smelled smoke. He said he immediately knew it was a small fire and alerted the other 15 family members living in the house. Everyone, including University of Minnesota student July Vang, a neurological science senior, escaped safely, and are now residing with family nearby while they attempt to return to normal life. The family consists of eight adults and eight children âÄî six girls aged 1, 2, 3, 6, 7 and 9, and two boys aged 4 and 12. With the loss still fresh in her mind, Vang, who is married to Thomas YangâÄôs brother, has continued to attend classes as usual, but said it isnâÄôt what sheâÄôs focused on right now. âÄúSchool hasnâÄôt been my priority for the last week or so,âÄù she said. âÄúIâÄôve been more in tune with my personal issues. ItâÄôs been tough.âÄù The house, which burned to the ground, wasnâÄôt insured, Yang said, and it was facing foreclosure before the fire occurred. He said the family has recovered quickly and has gotten back to their normal routine. The cause of the blaze is still unknown. Hue Yang, VangâÄôs father-in-law, said the family has been living with his niece, Pa Kou Yang, while they search for a new home, but additional assistance has come from many sources, including the American Red Cross and the Forest Lake school district. Caroline Carr Latady, the family support advocate for the district, was contacted about the fire since some of the children attend school there. Latady said she contacted Mainstreet Bank in Forest Lake and established a fund for the family as a central place to direct people who wanted to help. Although the bankâÄôs representatives said the fund has been popular, they were unable to release the donation total for confidentiality reasons. In addition to the fund, VangâÄôs friend Misato Sakai, who recently completed her Ph. D. at the University, helped by purchasing amenities like baby clothes out of her pocket, and sent letters to the UniversityâÄôs College of Biological Sciences as well as the presidentâÄôs office seeking help. âÄúI encouraged them not to lose any hope,âÄù Saka, who has known Vang for about two years, said. âÄúI thought I [could] do something for them so that they donâÄôt lose any hope and they wonâÄôt be too depressed.âÄù Saka said much of the response to the familyâÄôs disaster was due to their connections, but the support wonâÄôt last forever. âÄúThey have a good social network to receive this family for short term, but not in the long term,âÄù Saka said. Vang said she is grateful for the help during their time of struggle and credits the Forest Lake area for the difference in their lives. âÄúWe need as much help as possible,âÄù Vang said.