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HIGHLAND — Diane Goodman was at Walgreens buying groceries and medicine for her sick mother in the hospital when she got the text.

“One of my son’s friend’s mom asked if we were OK,” the 45-year-old mother said. “I sent back, ‘What are you talking about?”

Her apartment complex, the home where she had lived with her son for the past four years, was on fire.

Goodman immediately called apartment management, looking for answers on the condition of her apartment, which was on the north side of the complex. They didn’t have much to tell her.

“It was still burning at the time. All I was told was that I am not allowed to go near it until later Monday or Tuesday because there is still an investigation and a lot of unanswered questions,” Goodman said Sunday. Goodman was at Lincoln Street Christian Church where she, along with her sister, gathered clothes and toiletries donated to the church for the 45 people displaced by the apartment fire at the 9500 block of Hampton Drive.

A total of 24 apartments in the 25-unit building were damaged in the fire. 

“I’ve sat in the apartment parking lot, just looking at it to try and come to grips with it all. I have no idea how bad the damage is to my home. I don’t know if I have smoke damage. I don’t know if there’s water damage. I don’t know if I lost everything.”

With tears in her eyes, Goodman shuffled through the stacks of shirts and pants, repeatedly reassuring herself that everything was going to be OK.

She has been through some hard times before. She’s a Hurricane Ike survivor when she lived in Texas.

The 2008 storm swept away some of Goodman’s most sentimental items, but she was able to keep a bin of her 13-year-old son’s “firsts.” That bin is in her Highland apartment.

“It has his first Halloween costume, first pair of shoes, favorite blankets and quilts my mom made for him as a baby,” Goodman said, adding that her son was with his father the day of the fire. “I just want all those things back.”

Helping victims

Many local churches have stepped up to help those in need since Friday’s fire.

Lincoln Street Christian Church opened its doors Sunday to residents to pick up donated goods and eat free pizza.

Jana Szostek, of Lincoln Street Christian Church, said the church family and other community members have responded incredibly, bringing in large amounts of donated clothing, food, toiletries, furniture and other monetary necessities to the church to provide relief for the fire victims.

“To see all of this, it’s just heartwarming,” Szostek said as the church basement continued to fill with incoming donations and volunteers. “It’s just amazing to see Highland come together during such a difficult time."

The church, at 2420 Lincoln St., will continue welcoming displaced residents from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to noon Sunday.

“We want people to keep coming and take what they need,” Szostek said.

Survivors can also visit Community of Christ Church, at 8629 Kennedy Ave. The church is providing a donation drive and has been “stacked up with supplies” since opening its doors early Saturday.

“We’ve come up with houseware, clothing, blankets, shoes, toys for kids, personal care items — there’s just been so much,” said church member Chris Smith. “The Red Cross and their referral will tell us how many people may be in a family, their ages, their basic needs and we’ll try to fill those needs.”

Red Cross workers immediately responded to the fire Friday and have continued to help victims through the process by putting them in touch with agencies who can help, said Kristin Marlow-Kelleman, executive director of American Red Cross of Northwest Indiana.

“We set them up with a recover plan to make sure they can get through this disaster,” Kelleman said. “The road of recovery is different for everyone. The community rallies fast, which is great, but these folks are in it for the long term. This isn’t something that will end in a couple of days. Recovery takes time.”

Kelleman said the Red Cross still has not been in contact with all the residents displaced by the fire as the apartment management has not released that list.

The organization encourages families to reach out and connect to ensure they are provided the right resources and recovery plan.

Those in need can contact the Red Cross at 888-684-1441.

Investigation continues

Initial calls came in around 3 p.m. Friday with reports of a fire that started in a third-floor apartment.

Firefighters responded, finding flames and smoke pouring into the air and spreading from the outside of the building to other units, causing a collapse on the south side.

Firefighters from Highland, Munster, Griffith, St. John, Merrillville, Dyer, Lake Ridge and Lake Hills, attacked the fire from both sides of the building.

There were no injuries to residents or firefighters, but some pets died in the fire.

It is currently too dangerous for residents to re-enter the apartment complex and the investigation into what started the fire will likely take a week, said Highland Fire Chief William Timmer.

“We have to get it thawed out a little bit,” Timmer said of the mist and ice that has coated the apartment building.

“We’ve done some preliminary work with homeowners and insurance companies. I have talked to management over at the complex about giving residents a personal update on everything, which we hope to have by the first of the week. It’s all a matter of coordination between the weather and residents.”

In the meantime, Goodman will continue to stay with her mother and stay thankful no one was hurt.

“My gorgeous child is still here,” she said. “That’s all that matters to me.”

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Allie covers South Lake County municipal government, development and breaking news for The Times. She comes to the Region from Lebanon, Indiana. She is a proud Ball State University graduate.