Public Safety

Selfless neighbors help control damage in Cedar Rapids house fire

Ashes from fire pit ignite blaze; family to relocate for six months

Cory Goldensoph, a Cedar Rapids lawyer, said he was in shock when he realized a bucket of ashes from a fire pit, placed
Cory Goldensoph, a Cedar Rapids lawyer, said he was in shock when he realized a bucket of ashes from a fire pit, placed behind his garage, started a fire Aug. 12 at his house on Falcon Drive NE. He was grateful for the friends and neighbors who came running over to help control the fire until firefighters arrived, and offered his family clothes and a place to stay. (Submitted photo)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Two days after the derecho, Cory Goldensoph was “playing lumberjack” and clearing downed trees in his backyard when he asked his 11-year-old son to clean the fire pit used the night before to roast hot dogs.

So Atticus put the ashes in a bucket and left it the garage. Later that night, he heard a “rustling” sound and alerted his mom. As she walked to the bedroom window to look, Cory Goldensoph noticed an “orange glow” through the blinds.

“My wife, Megan, hollers, ‘Fire.’ Well, she yelled an expletive and then yelled ‘fire,’” said the Cedar Rapids defense lawyer.

Megan, Atticus, 14-year-old daughter Anika and their dog ran out the front door as Cory ran out the back — remembering the family was using their neighbor’s generator, sitting close to the house.

“I unplug it, move it away from the house and call 911,” he said.

The area behind the attached two-door garage was quickly burning. Cory grabbed the hose, but there was not much water pressure.

“I took a photo and posted it on Facebook, saying, ‘And now our house is on fire — F#%& 2020!’ I think I was in shock and just wandering around. I didn’t know what started it.”

Hears scream

At the same time, behind te family’s house on Falcon Drive NE, about three house down on Sally Drive NE, Ahmed Azmeh, 21, went to bed early because his family, like many others, didn’t have power and, also like many others, had been out all day cutting trees and picking up debris along the street.

His sister told him she heard a scream. Ahmed heard a “crackling sound” and saw smoke and a glow behind them at a neighbor’s house.

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“I just jumped up and me and my sister both called 911,” he said. “I went to get the fire extinguisher (in the kitchen). I almost forgot to put on clothes. Not sure if I had shoes on. I think I had on flip-flops.”

Ahmed, a senior at Iowa State University, said his adrenaline was pumping as he ran into the “pitch black” neighborhood. He had to maneuver through tree limbs, downed trees and other debris about 100 yards to the Goldensophs’ backyard.

“I had been out that day and kind of knew where I needed to go to get around,” Ahmed said.

Neighbors meet

As Ahmed ran into the yard, two men he later learned were Cory and a neighbor trained garden hoses on the blaze. Ahmed blasted flames with the fire extinguisher until it ran out.

“The fire was so hot,” Ahmed said. “My face and eyebrows felt like they were, you know, singed.”

Ahmed said it was the first time he had used a fire extinguisher, but his dad had talked to him about fire safety and he just went through safety training during a summer internship with Caterpillar. He is studying mechanical engineering.

“Without Ahmed and my next-door neighbor, Dan, helping control the fire, I am 100 percent convinced that the fire damage would have been more severe,” Cory said.

Cory and Ahmed met for the first time, fighting the fire together.

Ahmed, now back to school in Ames, said he wanted to help and make sure everyone was safe.

Cory Goldensoph said he realized later it was the bucket of ashes that had started the fire. Maybe it’s a “cautionary” tale for others not to assume the fire pit ashes are safe — even from the night before, he noted.

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The fire damage was limited to destroying a plastic storage cabinet and other items behind the garage, and the side of the house closest to the garage.

But the entire house has smoke and water damage. The family must find another place to live for about six months until the repairs are completed. They are staying with Cory’s sister and brother-in-law for now.

He is grateful to the many neighbors who came out that night and offered a place to stay, and brought over clothes because the family was outside in pajamas.

“We had lots of hugs and words of comfort,” Cory said. “The fire department was fantastic. Our good friends, Becky and Chris Appleby-Sparrow, saw my post on Facebook and drove over from across town, breaking curfew, to offer us a place to stay. I was really glad they were there because it made it simple as to where to stay that night.”

He said he hopes he can adequately show his appreciation to his neighbors and friends at some point.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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