It was 3 a.m. Tuesday when Justin Wiselus woke up to smoke filling the rooms of his childhood home in Pine Dell just south of Flagstaff.
Wiselus ran downstairs to find his back porch ablaze and the fire spreading to the rest of the backside of the house. Wiselus yelled to his brother, Josh Wiselus, who was still sleeping through the thick cloud of smoke. Josh woke up and the two men ran out of the house, which was now almost completely engulfed in flames.
“You think you have some time to go back in and get your stuff, but you really don’t,” Justin said about how the flames quickly engulfed his home.
The neighborhood had seen small fires before but this was the first time a house was completely lost, Justin said a Highland Fire District firefighter told the two brothers.
The cause of the fire is still undetermined, according to the Flagstaff Fire Department.
The two-story home was purchased in 1991 by the brothers’ father, Rick Wiselus, who passed away in 2014.
Josh described the house as “quirky and authentic,” a place with memories of tree forts and preparing for high school dances.
“Everyone would always congregate on the front porch,” Josh said. “We have so many friends who loved this house.”
Both brothers were relieved to be alive, but fhey were still coming to terms with losing a lifetime of memories and possessions.
“We pretty much lost everything,” Justin said.
The brothers were able to save their dog Ruger and their vehicles, which consisted of two trucks, an ATV and a Harley Davidson motorcycle.
“Ruger pretty much made it out on his own,” Josh said with a relieved smile on his face.
However, Josh lost his iguana, Bonzai, and albums full of old photos.
“He was such a cool lizard,” Josh said. “I tried to save him but there was so much smoke and fire that I could barely breathe. I had to crawl out of my house and if I struggled to get through all that smoke I can’t imagine he did.”
Both brothers regretted being unable to save a photo of their father that they framed as a memorial to him.
“It was a picture of him on his Harley,” Justin said. “He loved riding and he was the whole reason I started doing it.”
Josh said that he was going to contact his father's “biker buddies” to see if they had any old pictures of him.
“There are a lot of memories of my dad in this house that are now gone,” Josh said. “He did everything for this house and now we have to figure out what to do next.”
Community comes together
Josh said his neighbors and the greater Flagstaff community have done their best to help ease the pain of a devastating situation.
Within hours of the fire, neighbors brought food and clothes to the two brothers and shared their condolences.
“Everyone has been amazing,” Justin said as his brother Josh talked with his neighbor, who asked him how he was doing. “The community has really come together to help us out.”
The Double Tree hotel, where Josh works, gave the brothers a room for the month while the insurance companies work out a settlement and the Red Cross gave the brothers money to buy clothes.
“It has been kind of crazy,” Justin said. “We were at the DMV and the person at the front said he had clothes for us.”
A GoFundMe account was also created by a friend of the family, Heather Pierce.
The account has raised over $5,000 in four days.
If you would like to donate go to https://www.gofundme.com/wiselus-brothers-house-fire
The brothers have said they plan to rebuild the house but have not decided on how they want to rebuild it.
“It is all so overwhelming right now,” Justin said. “Do we build something new or rebuild our childhood home?”