Family reflects on loss of childhood home in Audrain Co. fire

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AUDRAIN COUNTY - A family is forced to move on after a fire destroyed their home of 32 years Saturday night.

“It was just so busy, always busy," Leslie McEwen, who grew up in the house, said. "Just the heart of the family.”

Sam and Thelma Mills, McEwen's parents, bought the house off of Highway 151 just north of Centralia in 1988. The couple raised five kids there.

“We would play baseball and hit golf balls across the road. This house was made for having lots of children," McEwen said.

Late on Saturday night, she found out from a neighbor that the house was on fire. Initially, she felt "overall devastation."

“I didn’t know that my parents were out, and I honestly had that feeling that I had lost them," McEwen said.

She raced from Moberly, where she was visiting a friend, and ended up following fire trucks from Sturgeon all the way back to her childhood home.

When McEwen got to the house, a firefighter said her parents had made it out safely.

“Very uplifting to see my parents just sitting in the truck alive and ok," she said. "It’s an indescribable feeling to know that they made it out.”

The family is now left with a lot of questions.

“How are we going to rebuild?" McEwen asked. "Where are we going to go from here?"

But in the midst of everything, the family has received support from those around them.

“We’ve just had a lot of friends and family reach out," McEwen said. "Clothes, dishes food. 'What do you need, what can we get you?' It’s been amazing.”

Now, the family is left to reflect on all that was lost in the fire.

"There are photos and priceless items in the house," McEwen said. "Things of my grandparents and great grandparents. That’s also really devastating, is knowing just the total loss — things that you’ll never get back. Memories can only hold you so long.”

McEwen said the house is historic. Built in 1911, it had a part in the underground railroad. She said a tunnel ran from the basement to a garage on the corner of the property.

Even after the loss of priceless items and the house's history, McEwen said she is still happy to have her family around her.

“It is a lot of memories, but it's just things. It’s a house," she said. "But having the life and family still around you, we can joke and move on because we're all still together, and we can all hold each other together.”

McEwen said her entire family is so grateful to the first responders.

“Just a massive thank you," she said. "They did amazing, they did everything they could."

McEwen said firefighters have not gotten back to her family about the cause of the fire yet.