Neighbor helps senior out by cleaning her house, he is immediately dumbfounded by what he finds. The next thing they know, it’s burnt to the ground.
“This can’t be happening,” he thought as he looked at her house engulfed in flames. He had all the right intentions, but he would have never expected this. His plan was straightforward; help his elderly neighbor out by cleaning up her house and make it livable again. But he could never have expected to find such a horrific scene once he entered. He had no other choice but to call the fire department, and they have no other choice but to burn the whole thing down to the ground.
Surely it could have been salvaged, but little did they know how untrue that really was.
Right In Front Of Her
Kevin Burns had just moved to Redding, CA. But as soon as he moved in, something rattled him. As he pulled up to his home each night, he saw his neighbor sleeping and eating inside her car. He glanced at her house to see if it was still intact and he wondered, “What on earth is keeping her from going inside?”
It took him a couple of days to gather up the courage and ask the woman why she was living in her car when she apparently had a home right in front of her. Little did he know, what she was about to tell him would end up in a dangerous spiral.
Ruth Ratliff, a 68-year-old woman, was indeed living in her car. But, Burns could not for the life of him understand why. Until one day, the temperatures outside were dropping. Fall was right around the corner, and he couldn’t take it anymore. He had to know. “It tore my heart. It broke my heart,” Justin told a news station after their conversation. “A 68-year-old woman sitting here in minus degree weather just isn’t right.”
He was determined to help as he thought about one thing in particular, “What if this was my mother or grandmother?” So, one evening, the two struck up a conversation.
Burns and Ruth quickly began to get to know each other, and he discovered more and more about her predicament. Ruth had no electricity or running water in her home. But Burns knew that this couldn’t be the whole truth to the story because just those two obstacles could be fixed. He didn’t want to push the elderly lady any further so, day in day out, he would visit her and try to piece the mystery together.
As it turned out, Ruth was not precisely choosing to live outside her home. In fact, she couldn’t even really reside indoors – at least, not in its current state. What was the real reason for Ruth’s refusal to enter her home? What could she possibly be hiding?
Burns continued to ask questions but still couldn’t get enough to crack the case. She did, however, show him the ins and outs of her car- turned-home. She had everything set up perfectly and even got creative, by flipping one of the backseats and making it lie completely flat. That was her bed. Whatever was haunting her lead to the decomposition of her home, avoiding it entirely as she lived in her car. She wouldn’t even go inside when Burns asked her if he could take a tour, she seemed frightened for him to find out the real reason she wasn’t living in there.
Still, Burns was too intrigued to let this woman freeze, so he persisted.
Even though she lived in her car, the car was actually broken. So not only was she a homeless homeowner but also, if she wanted to go anywhere, she would have to go by foot. Burns’ heart sank every time he heard her talk about what her life was like, and immediately knew he had to something, anything to help Ruth.
But then one day, Ruth disclosed something to Burns – a heartbreak so big it hit him in waves. This woman was dealing with so much more than what he had initially thought.
Ton Of Bricks
As Ruth sat on her fold-out chair, she started to listen to Burns talk about his past, and his memories. She sat there quietly listening to the young boy share his secrets with her, but then, in almost a whisper she revealed something. “My home has become a dump,” said Ruth, “because my very best friend died and I lost my mind.” This hit Burns like a ton of bricks, and now he finally understood.
Ruth lost her husband a few years back and was so profoundly taken over by the loss that she became numb and stopped maintaining her home — the home full of all their life’s memories. But still, he had to help her and had everything planned out for the next couple of days.
He knew he had to work on his friendship with Ruth before she would ever let him inside. But he had one clue now. She said it was a “dump,” but, even so, this couldn’t be all there was to it, right? A house can be cleaned up, but still, she couldn’t face to even look at it. Burns understood that her home marked a moment in her life when she had a family. But again, he couldn’t get his mind around the fact that this poor woman would torture herself by living outdoors. She would even cook outside with a small burner!
Little did he know, she would be torturing herself more if she lived indoors.
Burns got home one afternoon and saw Ruth fiddling with something in her car. She seemed distraught as he walked towards her. As he got closer he saw her, her chin trembled, and tears burst forth like water from a dam, spilling down her face. As he approached her, she saw Burns and immediately asked him for help. She couldn’t find a photograph of her parents, she was beginning to forget what their faces looked like and needed the photograph to keep their memory alive. As soon as she finished clutching his shoulders, she looked terrified.
Shaking, she pointed one finger and said three words Burns would always remember. “In the house,” Ruth said. “What’s in the house?” Burns answered perplexed, but that’s when he knew. She wanted him to go inside and retrieve the photograph for her. Burns didn’t know that as soon as he walked passed the threshold, there was no going back.
When Burns walked inside Ruth’s house for the first time, he was nearly knocked over by the smell. Trash and feces filled every room. “This is why my jalopy has become my home!” Ruth exclaimed. But the woman wasn’t telling the whole truth. After opening the door into the chaos of her house, he witnessed the scale of Ruth’s neglect – dirt was all over the walls and bags filled with trash were ceiling-high in every room.
Regardless, Burns knew this was too big of a task for him alone, so he did something else.
Trash had completely kicked her out of her house. As he toured every room, he couldn’t believe what he was witnessing. “Was this woman a hoarder?” Burns asked himself as he continued his investigation. But as he went room to room, the answer to his question seemed apparent. It looked like Ruth was unable to discard possessions, resulting in so much clutter that her living environment was no longer functional. But, as he kept looking at several objects around the house, he stumbled onto something incredible. She seemed to have been coupled with the unrelenting need to accumulate things, leaving her unable to discard anything.
But, if she was attached to her items, why wouldn’t she live inside either way? Still, there was more to it than just mounds of trash.
Ruth’s kitchen was so overrun with bags, dishes, paper plates, boxes, old food, and “stuff” that she could no longer even use the sink, stove or refrigerator to prepare meals. No wonder she was completely dependent on the car-home she had made functional to assist her every need. But, if this was actually a hoarding case, Burns knew he would need medical attention to help her get through her problem. He couldn’t just start cleaning her stuff out, this would produce an even bigger issue if she really did hold everything so dear.
As Burns continued to discover Ruth’s house he saw what seemed to be just a simple metal shelf that was all rusted. But as he took a closer look, he noticed that something was behind it. He immediately pulled on the shelf and it gave way to a secret room. What could Ruth be hiding? Was this why she was so secretive about her home?
The room was in complete darkness. Burns could feel his heart thud in his chest with an immense pressure. He took out his phone to get some kind of light in the room — but once he did, he saw everything. The old room had been boarded up for a long time and dust piled everywhere, but something caught his eye. Not only was this room filled with knickknacks from Ruth’s old life, but the room was pristine compared to the rest of the house. Something in this room must be important to Ruth. It seemed like this was the only place she wanted to conserve her memories.
But as he looked around, he saw pictures of a “happy family” and then, he noticed something that would make him question everything about Ruth.
Perplexed, now he knew who this bedroom had belonged to. It was clearly a child’s bedroom. But Ruth hadn’t said anything about having children, or any family for that matter. So, where was this child? He knew he had to ask Ruth. Burns left the mysterious room and continued to search the rest of the house. He opened every door and still was shocked to find so much clutter stacked up. But other objects of delight and interest made him see who Ruth once was. Quaint twisted candlesticks, a teapot fashioned in a vintage setting, old newspapers, and magazines that had been there for years, amongst even more things.
But as he peered through the unimaginable junk, something caught his eye. As he went to retrieve it, he gasped. He had found it, and it was in plain sight!
Inside one bedroom, which he assumed was Ruth’s, he could see something poking out from the corner of one of the cabinets. It was the photograph of Ruth’s parents. The picture had become worn, sun-bleached and damaged. But still, the image of both of them smiling was picture perfect.
Burns could see Ruth’s mothers love and her father’s kind spirit emerging instantly from the precious memory. How could have Ruth let things go this far? Little did Burns know, the clutter and trash were the simplest of problems.
Stench And Clutter
Burns couldn’t get the stench out from his nose, but just by looking around he knew why. Rotten food had been piling up for who knows how long, trash bags filled with all kinds of things were too. Clutter was everywhere, and as he continued to inspect the house and open more doors, there was just more and more. Ruth needed help, and he was willing to give it his all to help her. Who was he to judge her? Enough stress can change any one of us! This woman was dealing with more than a significant loss, and now, he knew he had to talk to her.
He turned around to go back out and speak to Ruth, but just as his heels turned, he saw it. Black and grim, right on the wall.
He noticed a dark shadow on the white wall. What was that? But as Burns got closer, he immediately knew. The house was full of mold. Did Ruth know? Maybe that’s why she had been living outside! Burns felt a sense of relief and began to relax his muscles. He had a fantastic plan; clean up Ruth’s house and get rid of the black mold.
The only thing left was to tell Ruth, and hopefully, she would let him. But this was not the first time she had heard about her toxic home.
Black mold is often called toxic mold, but the mold itself is not toxic, only the black spores that it emits. This type can be severely dangerous to humans and pets, but still, Burns didn’t know if this mold, in particular, was the dangerous type. For this, he would have to call an expert, and they would have to take a sample and look at it under a microscope. Something told Burns that this was indeed the dangerous type of mold, but still, he had immense hope. As he got closer to the dark mold, he wanted to know how bad it had gotten, and surely enough… it was bad.
As bad as he expected…Spores were everywhere! Not only did Burns have to speak to Ruth right away, but he had to get away from the exposure.
He quickly shuffled his way outside and gasped for air as he reached the exit. A sick feeling coursed through his body. How long did it take to feel or see black mold symptoms? Already, he was nervous about the situation. As he reached Ruth, she immediately saw two things; the photograph he was clutching in his hand and the incredible shock on his face. She went towards him and gave him a huge hug, muttering “Thank you” over and over again. “Ruth, I am so sorry, but I think your house is full of mold. We need to call experts” Burns said. Ruth looked straight through him as if he had just unveiled her secret. “I know” is all she could muster, and she went back to her fold-out chair. How odd, Burns thought. But he still proceeded to call the experts.
He knew he would have to talk to Ruth about the secret room, but for now, one problem at a time.
As they arrived in their hazmat suits, they quickly asked Burns what the situation looked like in there. He stood still, he hadn’t thought how deeply uncomfortable this must be for Ruth. But still, she would have to understand that this was all with good intention for her wellbeing. As they proceeded to do their job, they started to rip off the wallpaper. This had massive amounts of mold splattered all over it.
But, how far did the mold in her house really go? And still, what was the mysterious bedroom’s secret?
Huge solid black patches had fused to the wallpaper, and as they continued to peel layers off, more and more mold was becoming apparent. Burns picked his way across the rooms on tiptoe, opening doors against the tide of objects that littered every floor in the house.
He wanted Ruth to start anew, for everything to be perfect once the clutter and the mold issue was cleared from her home. But then, the mold removal company told Burns something that made his heart leap out of his chest. What else could go wrong?
The experts told Burns that this case had been “The worst case they had ever seen” and that Burns had to leave the premises as the amount of mold in the air kept multiplying, leaving him very vulnerable to any health problems the toxic bold produced. They began hammering the walls with pieces of plywood covering the floor beneath them, and that’s when they saw it. The mold had spread everywhere, even to the structure of the house. This was unrepairable.
The experts told Burns what they had found, and both of them looked over at Ruth. She didn’t have insurance for mold-related repairs, and the only thing they could do was call the fire department and see what the next course of action was. The amount of mold in Ruth’s house was so incredibly toxic and contagious, her neighbors’ homes would soon have the same issue. Burns got the courage and asked Ruth about the secret bedroom, but she immediately swatted the question away, leaving Burns perplexed. Then the firemen arrived, and they knew they could only do one thing.
Burn It Down
This time, the firemen were not trying to save the building, they were given orders to burn it down. Some homeowners have burned down their homes, and everything in them, because they felt it was the only way to eradicate toxic mold from their surroundings. And this is precisely what the firemen suggested they did. Ruth had the last opportunity to go into her home and retrieve her most important things, but with the help from Burns, the only thing she hadn’t had – the photograph, was now in her possession.
The firemen secured the perimeter and began igniting the house. Flames shot up and shined with all their glory, warming everyone in their way. But there was one crucial thing Burns had forgotten entirely.
The world had become illuminated, smoke billowed into the skies turning it from pale blue to gray, flickering and weaving under the spell it was sparked into. The firemen gathered around the house to control the flames. While Ruth watched her home and everything she had once known vanish before her. But, for that brief moment in time that the flames leaped, devouring feverishly, Burns became tranquil.
But the blackened remains satisfied him only momentarily, then he remembered one crucial thing.
As the fire settled and the firefighters extinguished the flames Burns came to a startling realization – What had he just done? He had left a woman homeless! The only thing he wanted from the beginning was to help Ruth, and what he had done was to burn her house down!
Shame overwhelmed him; he could not let this woman live in her car for the rest of her life. He needed help and knew exactly where to turn.
Burns immediately gathered all the neighbors together and told them about Ruth’s predicament. He also started a Facebook page where he wrote about the condition of Ruth’s home and called others to action. By also placing a GoFundMe link on the Facebook page, donations started flooding in.
As she watched her community care for her, Ruth felt like she was coming back to life. These strangers were giving her back her dignity.
Back On Her Feet
“Ruth is such an upbeat, amazing person. We had to do something to help her. We had no idea she was living in her car,” one neighbor said. The home had belonged to her for 25 years. For most of those years, Ruth lived in the house, but she hasn’t been inside for the past few. “It’s going to be a long process, but at least we all got together, and everyone’s trying to help Ruth get back on her feet,” Burns said.
For the time being, Burns decided to make space for Ruth and her little dog in his new home, and she was more than grateful for that. But then, one day, she received news that will change her life forever.
A non-profit organization had heard about Ruth’s predicament on the Facebook page Burns had created. They were in awe of the story and decided to pay them a visit. On this visit, they informed Ruth and Burns that they were part of a program that helped seniors establish new comfortable lives. They had various retirement homes in the area and were willing to donate their care to Ruth for as long as she needed it.
Burns and Ruth looked at each other in excitement, but the two had formed such an enormous bond that the thought of Ruth being far made both their hearts ache.
Lucky for them. One of the retirement homes was located just under 10 miles from Burns house, meaning he could visit anytime he wanted to. The GoFundMe page was flooding in with donations, and he soon shut it down, telling everyone about the amazing deed this non-profit had done. He also informed everyone that their contributions would be coming back to them. But, one last surprise was in store for Burns, and this time he could only feel happy.
Ruth began her first week in the home and could not have been happier. She was cared for by loving nurses, and she even started to open up to other women in the center’s care. Things were looking up. But still, one thing persisted in Burns’ mind.
One Big Family
One day, Ruth told Burns all about the secret bedroom. It turned out, that bedroom had been hers when she was just a child herself and when her parents had passed away she had moved in there and started her family. Sadly, she couldn’t have any children, so she covered the bedroom up as if she was putting a Band-Aid on the wound. Now, thanks to Burns, she could leave all her pain behind her and look forward to a bright future. Burns adopted Ruth’s dog from her and took the little pup to see her every time she visited. Each time he went, her smile grew wider and wider. This amazing man had changed her life completely and for the better.
As the community soon heard about Ruth’s good fortune, they all started to wonder what to do with all the money they had collected for her. The decision they came to was not a hard one at all, it was meant for Burns. He had the compassion and kindness to help this elderly woman out of a dire situation. If it was not for him, no one knows what would have happened. Burns was presented with the money at a community gathering, and of course, Ruth was there to share her smiles. These two strangers had become family, and more so, reunited a whole community to care and look after each other.