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Wild Weather Survivors

When nature takes a walk on the wild side, we realize how prepared we really are – or aren’t. Three families share their stories as well as what they’ve learned as they’ve recovered from their disastrous weather encounters.

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Jack McDonald had been settled in his little corner of Ellensburg, Washington, for 17 years with his wife, their horses, their dogs and “the coolest gang of cats you ever saw,” he says. You might not think of the rain-soaked Pacific Northwest as at risk for wildfires, but they were on the edge of open range. “They’d come close in the past,” he says.

On August 13, 2012, his wife called: “She could see the smoke and said, “We gotta get out of here,’” McDonald says. Twenty minutes later the horses were loaded in a trailer and their dogs were in her car. He could see the fire in the distance. “The winds were horrendous – 60 miles per hour across the ridge – but it looked like it might miss us,” he says. McDonald put the cats in their double-wide mobile home and was giving his wife a hand with the horses when he heard that the fire was spreading – and had changed course. “I came back up to my ranch, and it was clear that my house was in danger. I was going to go get the cats, but the fire chief stopped me,” McDonald says. “I said, ‘I can see the house right there! I need to get my cats!’ But the fire had already swept in.”

The McDonalds’ home burned down to the crawlspace, leaving nothing but ash. “Glassware and cookware had melted into puddles,” Jack recalls. “We recovered nothing”

They began looking to replace their belongings as soon as they could. And that’s when insult added to injury. “I bought the minimum amount [of insurance] I could get, trying to save money,” McDonald admits. They’re living in a smaller rental now. “It’s 800 square feet less,” he says. “We had to cut back on a lot of things, like buying used furniture. But I don’t mind used furniture. That’s not the point. What makes me sick is thinking of what’s irreplaceable.”

What To Do

Wildfires can’t be predicted the way hurricanes or blizzards can, says David Miskus, a drought-monitoring meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): “Overall, we’re expecting more intense dry spells, more warm spells.” The closer your home is to the range or the brush, the more at risk you are.

Clear away brush. Instead of watering to maintain lush green areas, make sure to remove brush, which is a fire hazard.
Gravel is your friend. Create a buffer zone between your home and potential fires with strategically placed gravel and other rock.
Don’t light fires during a burning ban. Sounds obvious – and yet again and again wildfires begin when someone does this.




Two years ago in June, Don Frank was sitting in his law office on the ninth floor in a building in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts. This particular day, which started out hot and sunny, was turning peculiar, and the view out his window was Frank’s first clue.

“Way out over the Berkshires I saw this cloud,” Frank recalls. “And it was moving quickly. My office mates turned on the radio, and we heard that there was a crazy tornado situation coming through Massachusetts. But somehow the idea of being affected by a tornado seemed implausible.”

After all, tornadoes happen in big-sky and prairie country, and the South. This was New England! “I could see what was now clearly a tornado forming, coming right over the river, which is a block and a half from my office,” Frank recalls. “I still wasn’t worried, because we all know tornadoes never affect people in Springfield.” He laughs a little. “But I thought, ‘It might knock down power lines, and if I end up stuck someplace, I’d rather be home.’”

What Frank did next was the opposite of what you should do during a tornado warning: he got into his car. He even offered his office mate a ride. “As we drove out of the parking lot, we came into very, very high winds – but I was still pretty sure nothing bad would happen to me!”

But bad things happen to everyone, no matter where they live, right when they least expect it. “The tornado went up and over my car,” Frank says. “In a second my car was completely engulfed in debris. My office mate sort of slid down in her seat. I shut my eyes, and at that moment I heard a giant kaboom! My back window pulled out with the pressure differential. Stuff was blowing into my car. As fast as the tornado hit – literally three seconds – it left.”

Frank saw a steel girder from a building lying across the street about 20 feet from his car. He counts himself incredibly fortunate – he was unhurt and was even able to repair his car. But something shifted for him that day. After he got home he tried to shrug off the events of the afternoon and meet some friends for a bike ride. “We were just rolling out on our bikes when at that moment that same freaky tornado wind blew,” he says. “I was obviously reliving the trauma, and suddenly I had barely enough strength to bike home.” No longer would he operate under the assumption that bad things couldn’t happen to him.

What To Do

Tornadoes can happen almost anywhere – even in New England. In fact, 2011 was the deadliest tornado year in five decades. Tornadoes are hard to predict, and there is often too little time to get out of their way. But there are still some wise precautions you can take.

Get a good storm door. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has identified certain storm doors that can withstand 250-mile-per-hour winds; if you live in Tornado Alley (from the Rockies to Appalachians), install one of those.
Strengthen your garage. A garage door can be especially vulnerable during high winds, and if your garage is attached that spells trouble for your whole house. A reinforced, windowless door is your best bet. You also can install vertical bracing that helps to reinforce the door.
Secure your windows. If you’ve heard you should open windows during a tornado, you’ve heard wrong. Instead, investigate DIY systems that clip plywood to your windows – no nailing necessary.
Consider installing a safe room. If you live in an area prone to tornadoes, this might be the best move you can make. It won’t protect your home but will protect you and your family – and that’s what’s truly irreplaceable.




The move for Patrick and Tammy Stewart and their two young daughters from their east coast, house to California, was wrenching. “We bought the house as a fixer-upper, and I literally painted every single inch of every single wall,” Tammy says. “It was our first house, and we loved it.” But career opportunities beckoned, so in January 2010 the Stewarts rented out their beloved east coast home and drove across country.

Almost two years later their tenants moved out. Just a few days before new renters were scheduled to move in, Tammy noticed news reports of a particularly bad storm coming. “In Takoma Park just about all the trees were planted at the same time – 70 years ago – and now they’re all dying,” Tammy notes. “We had a big tree in the back and two in front. I just knew something would go awry.”

Sure enough, the morning the storm made landfall, Tammy got an email from her old neighbor. “The subject line said, ‘It’s not too bad!’” Tammy says with a rueful laugh. “Attached was a photo of a tree that had fallen. Our neighbor described it tipping in slow-motion … riiiiight into our house.”

The Stewarts panicked. “We were 3,000 miles away, and this was an emergency! What were we going to do? We had to get the tree off the house – we worried winds would cause further damage.” Also their new tenants were arriving in just two days. “The first thing we did was call State Farm, then the tree guy,” Tammy recalls. Acting quickly, the Stewarts’ agent assessed the damage, the tree was chopped up and hauled away, and a contractor came out to make sure the house was structurally sound. Thankfully, it was. The Stewarts were lucky.

They were really lucky because, as Tammy admits, they didn’t really know what was insured.

“We got the insurance we were supposed to have as property owners. We didn’t know what was actually in our policy,” she says, “what was covered, what wasn’t. I didn’t even know what our deductible was!”

Tammy is glad the event forced her and Patrick to become more informed. “I think that tends to be the case for a lot of people,” she says. “You get what you’re supposed to get with the thought that nothing will really happen. It was eye-opening. We were so lucky we had no flooding, because now I realize we weren’t covered.”

In the midst of the hassle, the Stewarts haven’t lost sight of the silver linings. “We had never exercised our policy,” she says. “With State Farm it went really smoothly. We were surprised, given the damage back [on the East Coast], that our relatively small claim was handled so quickly.”

What To Do

Hurricanes and strong storms often pack a major punch. It’s important to be prepared and, as with any dangerous storm or peril, listen to and react appropriately to any evacuation or safety messages delivered by local weather and law enforcement services.”

Prepare for high winds. Add window protection and reinforce entry and garage doors. Pull all lawn furniture, planters and garbage cans inside – anything that’s not tied down is a potential projectile.
Stock up. Make sure you’ve got batteries, flashlights, and enough water and nonperishable food to last a few days. Fill large containers with water for washing and flushing, and gas up your vehicles.
Look into flood insurance. If you don’t live in a floodplain, chances are you’re not covered for flooding. Most flood insurance is provided by the National Flood Insurance Program, not standard homeowners policies.

Wild Weather Survivors

When nature takes a walk on the wild side, we realize how prepared we really are – or aren’t. Three families share their stories as well as what they’ve learned as they’ve recovered from their disastrous weather encounters.

Read More

From Animal Shelter To The Red Carpet

Abandoned by her family in 2009 in McLean County, IL a stray Labrador retriever named Ellie – and later renamed Kai – dug determinedly through a large box of toys, looking for the tennis ball and ignoring the rest of the toys.

That single-minded focus saved her life and earned her national recognition.

LINK TO STORY

From Animal Shelter To The Red Carpet

Abandoned by her family in 2009 in McLean County, IL a stray Labrador retriever named Ellie – and later renamed Kai – dug determinedly through a large box of toys, looking for the tennis ball and ignoring the rest of the toys.

That single-minded focus saved her life and earned her national recognition.

LINK TO STORY

History Makers Hit The Road

If you think about it, lots of good things involve the number five. Take the Jacksons, for example. There are also those luxurious five-star hotels and restaurants. Don’t forget Cinco de Mayo celebrations. And who doesn’t like a big high five after a job well done?

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Nowadays the famed legacy of the number five endures with the Jansens, a set of, you guessed it, quintuplets. Elijah, Taylor, Nick, Miranda and Carter are Nebraska’s first set of quintuplets. The world caught a glimpse of the tiny history-makers when Oprah invited them onto her show in 1999. Today, as they celebrate their 16th birthday, they are still making history.



Driving In Different Directions



Learning to drive as a quintuplet has its advantages. “It’s comforting because we’re all going through the same thing together. We can learn from each other,” says Miranda, who describes herself as a bit of a paranoid driver. “I’m afraid I’m going to make a mistake. Not only that, I can be totally careful, but I can’t control other drivers.” Maybe that’s why she prefers reading to driving these days.

“That’s the thing about quintuplets. They’re all very different people with very different interests. And I’ve learned you can’t force them to want to learn to drive,” admits dad Jeff, who has emerged as the quintuplets’ primary driving instructor.

When the teens turned 15, they all rushed to earn their learner’s permit. Jeff says he felt this intense pressure to schedule a behind-the-wheel driving lesson every week with each teen in order to teach them everything possible before they turned 16. What he found, after the newness of driving wore off, is not all of them were excited to drive, especially when severe winter weather struck. The polar vortex froze everything, including their driving aspirations.

“Some of them aren’t ready and that’s okay. I’d rather them take their time,” said Jeff. And so, like many other things in life, the quintuplets are traveling at different speeds.

Back in 1997, Karla and Jeff were proud parents to a 12-year-old daughter, Nicole. For more than a decade, they tried to expand their family until finally they learned on Christmas Day their prayers had been answered. Shortly thereafter, they discovered they were having quintuplets. The babies arrived 8 weeks early on July 7, 1998.



Mom and Dad say the quintuplets’ unique personalities were obvious from the start. Elijah, for example, has always been quiet. When asked what he thinks about learning to drive, Elijah responds simply and a bit reluctantly, “It’s alright.”
Just alright?

“Just alright,” he says. Elijah is most interested in video games and robotics.



The Road Less Traveled

For all the perks of learning to drive with your siblings, there is one major downside: scheduling driving lessons. Like the household bathrooms, not everyone can go at once. Two parents. Five teens. Two cars. It doesn’t take a mathematician to know the answer is a complicated computation.

In the beginning, everyone was scrambling for practice time with Dad. The result? The road less traveled was nowhere within Omaha city limits. Now only two of the quintuplets are driving in the fast lane toward the DMV, curbing some of that chaos. Taylor and Carter plan to test for their licenses this summer. “I do try very hard to be perfect. I wouldn’t say I’m 100% perfect, but I do try not to make any mistakes when I’m driving,” insists Taylor. The “family princess” readily admits she’s sometimes her own worst distraction. “I’ll notice a wrinkle in my shirt or a hair out of place and I’ll try to fix it,” she said. That makes Mom and Dad nervous. And with quintuplets, those concerns are multiplied times five.



Close Calls



Car crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens so Jeff and Karla are trying to teach the quintuplets to be extra vigilant each time they sit behind the wheel. “We talk about unsafe things we see other drivers doing,” Karla, a school librarian, calmly explains. “They point out things they think I’m doing wrong, like not driving with my hands at 9 and 3 o’clock all the time [on the steering wheel]. We talk to them about the things they can be doing better when they’re driving. We just try to keep the conversation going.”

You get the sense Karla’s ease comes naturally even with her large family. She’s also a grandmother to oldest daughter Nicole’s six-year-old twins. Yes, twins. No need to adjust your screen.

Her calmness goes flying out the proverbial window, though, when there is a close call on the road. And with five teens learning to drive at the very same time, there have been plenty of close calls. Ask the quints about their worst driving experiences and you hear some pretty common mistakes.

Blind spots can catch even the most experienced drivers off guard, but Miranda finds them terrifying after she nearly sideswiped another car. There was the time Elijah ran a stop sign during a driving lesson, leaving him shaken and embarrassed. Once Nick was so confused about which way to turn at an upcoming intersection that he froze, literally screeching to a complete stop in the middle of a busy street and causing some gridlock for the irritated drivers behind him. There is no Easy Street when quintuplets are learning to drive.



“I want the kids to become more confident, but not to the point where they’re careless. Being a little nervous is good. It keeps them on their toes,” says Jeff.

And while there are always teachable moments, he tries to impress upon them that being a safe driver is a lifelong journey. “I can teach them everything I know, but it won’t matter if they’re not paying attention. If they can manage to stay safe, I’ll know all of this worked. The practice drives, the lessons, the blog. That’s the ultimate test of success.”

Driven To Help

By most accounts, the teens are listening. Taylor, a talented songstress, once made up her own song about driving 2 and 2, which stands for 2 eyes on the road and 2 hands on the wheel. Today she and her siblings are making history once again as the first set of quintuplets to document their driving lessons, cringe-worthy moments included, on a safety blog they created with help from State Farm called 5 Will Drive. Sometimes they make videos; other times they post pictures, but there is always a lesson to be learned.

The quints have tackled everything from merging to driving distractions. “You hear about so many car crashes with teens on the news. You realize how reckless some people can be. You really do have to pay attention 100% of the time. Keep your eyes focused on the road,” says Nick, a music and theatre star at his high school.





For nearly a year, the quintuplets have shared their lessons, hoping other teens and parents can benefit from all the wrong turns they have made. “We’re learning from our mistakes, but other people are learning, too. Our friends think it’s a cool thing we’re doing. So it seems like we’re actually getting a chance to help others be safer drivers on the road,” said Carter, who likes to run and sing, though, he’s quick to point out not at the same time.

Jeff, a plant manager, says his colleagues are commenting on the blog, too. “Last month was a big safety month for us at work. We focus on safety inside and out of the plant. The kids’ 5 Will Drive blog was brought up and used as this example of staying safe on the road. My co-workers say they wished there had been something like that, a resource like that, when they were 16 and learning to drive.”

An Important Sign

All five teens will renew their permits before their birthdays. They need to take a state driver’s education course and pass a road test before officially becoming licensed drivers. It looks like Taylor and Carter will start the course later this summer. Miranda, Nick and Elijah say they will get around to it some other time. In the meantime, they will continue to document and share their driving experiences on their blog.

“Driving, researching safety topics and just talking about driving in general gives me a chance to be a leader. I kind of feel like an authority…,” says Nick, his thought interrupted by Taylor who bristles at the idea of Nick being an authority.

“Authority figure? No, Nick. This is a team effort.” And that makes all of them laugh, even Nick. You can tell over the years the quintuplets have learned to play nicely, which is likely the result of sharing everything from toys as toddlers to their very own safety blog as teens.

Nick’s status as an authority may be up for debate, but there is one subject that isn’t. When asked what they think of cell phone use in the car, they simultaneously indicate cell phones are not used when they are behind the wheel. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people are killed and injured in crashes caused by distracted driving every day in the U.S. Cell phones are one of the biggest distractions for drivers.

“It’s common sense,” adds Miranda. “I’ve heard about so many accidents caused by using your cell phone. I don’t want to make that same mistake.”

For Elijah, Taylor, Nick, Miranda and Carter, the road to becoming licensed drivers is full of twists and turns, some busted hub caps, more near misses than anyone cares to count and detours. As with life, there will be signs pointing them along their paths. Proceed with Caution. That’s one Dad and Mom hope they always remember.



To learn more about the quintuplets’ blog, 5 Will Drive, visit http://5willdrive.com.

History Makers Hit The Road

If you think about it, lots of good things involve the number five. Take the Jacksons, for example. There are also those luxurious five-star hotels and restaurants. Don’t forget Cinco de Mayo celebrations. And who doesn’t like a big high five after a job well done?

Read More

Are You Ready For An Epic Road Trip?

Seasoned road-tripper, Manny Ruiz, shares travel tips as he embarks on his seventh annual family road trip.

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Update: July 17, 2014

Checking In With Papiblogger and Family



Papiblogger and family are five days into their 11 day, epic road trip through Colorado and Utah.  They have been crisscrossing states and fortunately have not lost anything…yet.

At the half-way point on their trip, they have noticed a few important things.  Electronic devices to keep the kids from getting bored are absolutely essential.  “Having the kids occupied in the car is very helpful – it could have been really, really bad without electronic devices,” said Ruiz.

Papiblogger says his family is very flexible on road trips. And that paid off as they left Monument Valley (the biggest “wow moment” of the trip so far). They left a little later then they would have liked due to a series of events (i.e. not wanting to miss a second of that big soccer game recently?) and they were heading toward Zion National Park in the Utah Mountains in the dark. They were tired and made the decision to stay at a hotel two hours from the Park so they did not drive fatigued in the pitch black through unfamiliar mountains. Smart call!  Even the hotel staff at Zion National agreed Papiblogger made the safe call.



Speaking of being fatigued, Papiblogger and family usually build in a few “bumper days” into their road trips.  Essentially a “bumper day” is a day left unplanned so it can be used to get some much needed rest or to do something spontaneous with the family.  He realized that he probably should have built in one more “bumper day” so he and his wife do not drive fatigued.

Some other key Papiblogger takeaways:

Because many of the areas they are traveling have some roads that are less paved, it’s great to have the trunk kit in case they need to repair.
It helps to have an SUV that is made for this type of rugged terrain.  “On a previous road trip, we had a vehicle that wasn’t made for the terrain and we were literally stuck in the sand.”  Driving through national parks, Manny would highly recommend having a proper vehicle for potential off-roading.
Sun block!  You can get sun exposure even while driving in the car through the hot desert.
Manny and family have a few more days of road tripping left and PapiBlogger will continue to share a few of his #RoadTripProTips along the way. Make sure to follow @StateFarm, @StateFarmLatino and @PapiBlogger on Twitter and check back on this post in two weeks for a recap from Manny and family on their epic road trip!

Do you have a crazy story to share about your road trip? How do you prepare your family before hitting the road? Share with us @StateFarm on Twitter.

Update: July 2, 2014

Manny Ruiz, aka PapiBlogger, has made road trips a family tradition. This year Manny, his wife and their four kids will head out to Utah, the Grand Canyon and Colorado for a trip that will surely be a great adventure. Manny and family started the tradition in 2008 and now have more than 30,000 miles across the United States under their belts.





“These trips help to build memories for our family,” said Manny. “When I was young I went on one road trip with my parents and it stuck with me.”



After crisscrossing the country, Manny and his family are “seasoned pros” when it comes to family road trips. Tip number one in Manny’s book; a quarter of a tank of gas should be treated as an empty tank…since you never know where the next gas station will be located. You don’t want to spend a day of your family road trip stranded or walking miles in the heat to fill up your tank!

Manny and family also prep their car before taking off on longer trips by checking fluid levels, tires, packing an atlas (in case you are in a part of the country without strong cell reception), and ensuring they have emergency essentials in their trunk. Making sure your vehicle is in good condition will save you a lot of headaches down the road, literally!

When it comes to traveling with his four children ranging in ages from 14 to two years old, Manny takes an education route to prep for the vacation. Manny and his wife, Angela, teach their children about the unique history and cultural significances of the places they visit. They also make sure to pack healthy snacks along the way and bring books, toys and electronic devices to keep the boredom away on long stretches of road.



But you never know what can happen on the open road. And the Ruiz family knows that better than anyone else. Whether it’s trips to the Emergency Room - during one road trip, two family members landed in the ER, or car doors coming unhinged -strong winds on the Oregon Pacific Coast caused damage to their vehicle, or luggage flying off the roof of a car -fortunately no one was hurt when the roof rack flew off the car on a Texas highway, the family sticks to the mantra: “Adapt, Improvise, and Overcome” so they are always prepared for the unexpected.

Manny and family are heading “out West” on July 11 and PapiBlogger will share a few of their #RoadTripProTips along the way. Make sure to follow @StateFarm and @Papiblogger on Twitter and check back on this post every couple of weeks for updates from Manny and family on their epic road trip!

Do you have a crazy story to share about your road trip? How do you prepare your family before hitting the road? Share with us @StateFarm on Twitter.

Are You Ready For An Epic Road Trip?

Seasoned road-tripper, Manny Ruiz, shares travel tips as he embarks on his seventh annual family road trip.

Read More

Protecting the Peanuts: A Home and Business Catch Fire

As Kathy McKeithan watched flames burst through the wall of her garage, she realized she had the potential to lose not only her home, but her business as well.

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McKeithan and her husband John have been married for 32 years and live in the Guilford Hills community in Greensboro, NC. On March 23, McKeithan, her husband and a guest were awoken by the home’s ADT monitored alarm. “About 2:30ish my guest hollered Kathy, Kathy, John the alarm’s going off,” she recalls, “as we opened the door smoke was rolling down the hall.”

Kathy would later discover that an electrical malfunction in her home office had sparked a blaze that was ripping its way through her office and spreading into the hallway. The response time was critical. “Without that alarm we wouldn’t have heard it, the fire department told us later that another two and a half minutes and we wouldn’t have gotten out because of the smoke,” McKeithan stated.

Business Comes to a Halt

McKeithan was not only devastated by the destruction to her home, she could also see her livelihood going up in flames as she considered the impact the fire would have on her small business. In 2008 Cathy opened Carolina Select Premium Peanuts, a North Carolina specialty foods business providing roasted red skin peanuts that started in her kitchen. She recalls, “It was a labor of love and it was really exciting.”

“When this fire happened to me and it put me out of my home, not only did it put me and my husband out but it shut my business down completely, that’s money out of my pocket, a young lady that worked for me doesn’t have a job right now,” she said.

Since the fire, her company has had to stop production. “It’s a big deal for me, I’ve cooked hundreds of thousands of peanuts in that house,” she said.

Being prepared for the unexpected has allowed McKeithan to recover and rebuild quickly. She states that preparing for the unexpected, “means that I get back on my feet mentally, physically, emotionally, as a family, but also I get my small business back sooner and that makes my customers really happy.”

Preparing for the Unexpected



The monitored alarm system gave McKeithan and her husband a sense of control in a very emotional situation. Her smart home provider alerted emergency services and the local fire department deployed trucks to the house.

Clarence M. Hunter, Deputy Chief of Fire Department Support Services for the City of Greensboro explained how a smart home can positively impact critical response time, he said, “As a Fire Department we have the ability to control our response time; the time it takes from when we get notification of a call from the 911 dispatcher until we arrive at the location of the emergency, by placing our stations where they are and having the equipment to meet the need; however the most critical factor is the amount of time it takes for a fire to be discovered and that 911 phone call is made.”

McKeithan’s home is insured by State Farm and she considers her agent, Charlie Ganim, a longtime friend. “It’s a tremendous thing to have the peace of mind of knowing that you have got a company like State Farm behind you that has integrity and has the ability, because of their size and their scope, to take care of a problem,” she said, “State Farm has a team and when you’re in a crisis you want a team.”

Grant Leads to Better Detection

In May, McKeithan was brought together with her smart home dispatcher, as well as the local heroes from the fire department that saved her life, home and business. The first responders were awarded a $5,000 grant from State Farm, as well as an additional $5000 grant from ADT that will help them to do their jobs more efficiently.

Hunter explained how the State Farm grant will be put to use in their community, “This grant will fund the purchase of portable carbon monoxide monitoring devices, which will alert emergency responders to the presence of carbon monoxide gas. Prompt detection of carbon monoxide not only reveals a possible cause of patient illness, but also allows emergency responders to properly take care of themselves and take steps to mitigate the emergency.”

Protecting the Peanuts: A Home and Business Catch Fire

As Kathy McKeithan watched flames burst through the wall of her garage, she realized she had the potential to lose not only her home, but her business as well.

Read More