WHEELING - It was nearly one year ago when Robert and Selma Hughes narrowly escaped a fire which destroyed their home located at 3737 Wood St. in South Wheeling.
One year later, the church-going couple who said their faith in God and countless number of people who stepped forward to help them in such a desperate time of need, are the reasons they are living in a beautiful new home at the same location. "I was 81 years old at the time. It's a miracle we even got out," said Robert Hughes while recalling the devastating fire which struck their home on May 21, 2011. "I stated at the time, 'It's just a house, we'll be back,' ... the people down here are calling it 'the miracle on 37th street.'"
Hughes and his wife were the only two residing at their residence at the time of the incident.
Robert and Selma Hughes stand in front of their new home located at 3737 Wood St. in South Wheeling.
"It was a Saturday, it was around lunchtime. We were going to go to church that afternoon," said Hughes.
He said it wasn't long after his wife went to take a shower to get ready for church that he heard "an unusual noise." Hughes said initially he thought his wife fell down in the shower, but after he went to investigate he discovered a wall heater had malfunctioned and caught a wall and a curtain on fire. He said he immediately called 911, and the two narrowly escaped the structure which quickly filled with smoke. He said just minutes later fire trucks were pulling up to the front of their house.
"I told them everybody was out of the house. I could hear the firemen saying, 'Give us water, give us water," said Hughes, as the two watched their home become engulfed in flames. He said surrounding homes and a nearby church were also evacuated as firefighters worked to extinguish the flames.
"If we would have been another minute we would have never made it - the smoke would have got us," said Hughes. "We were very fortunate - because I knew we could replace the house."
Hughes said they have lived at that same location for 38 years and raised three children there. In 1986, the Hughes tragically suffered the loss of one of their children to an auto accident.
"This fire was nothing compared to that," explained Hughes.
He said in both instances they turned to the church for support. "If you didn't have faith in the Lord - what would you have?" Hughes contends.
Since the fire, Hughes said his family, friends and neighbors have showered them with nothing but nurturing support. "They wanted to give us clothes - and neighbors came with hot meals and stuff for us to eat," he added.
He said some suggested that it might be easier for them to move to a new location such as a highrise building - but he decided at that time they would rebuild at the same spot. While they temporarily moved into Brooke Park apartments for several months - the remains of their burned out home was demolished last October. They were able to move into their newly built house only two months later.
Hughes said he felt compelled to tell his story about faith and hope because of the many people who stepped forward to help them in time of need.
"I really want to thank anybody who had anything to do with it - we really appreciate their support ... they really came through for us," he added.
"We hear about people losing their homes, and that's the end of it. You never hear about what happened to them afterwards. We were fortunate. We had good insurance - we had no problems ... we jumped through all the right hoops with the city and everything," Hughes added.
But it is still the little reminders - such as the flowery cross made by one of their neighbors which adorns the front door of their beautiful new home - that continues to remind them of how they got through such adversity.