When single mom Sarah Stickel moved to the Bogart Ranch trailer park in Mahwah three months ago, she thought her life was finally starting to fall into place.
A year-and-a-half ago, Stickel was living in Missouri with her fiancé. The couple, she said, was happy to learn that Sarah was expecting a child. However, tragedy struck the family when her fiancé was killed in a car accident just one week after finding out he was going to be a dad.
Stickel, who grew up in Ridgewood, made her way back to North Jersey. “There was no reason to stay [in Missouri],” she said. “After Chip died, I wanted to be near my family.”
Seven months ago, Stickel gave birth to a baby girl, Callie. The mom and daughter were staying with family members and friends until they found an available trailer in the Mahwah Park where Sarah’s dad, Tom, has been living for the past two years.
“It seemed like a safe neighborhood that was kid-friendly,” Stickel said. “I was very happy to raise my daughter here.” Over the past three months, the duo began settling in, and Stickel began looking for a job.
The family’s plans came to a screeching halt Tuesday morning.
“At about a quarter after 10 a.m., I smelled smoke coming from the bathroom,” Stickel explained. “I opened the door and saw nothing but white smoke. I went outside, and within a minute I saw flames shooting from the side of the bathroom.”
Stickel ran out of the house with only a purse. Her infant daughter Callie, was with her grandmother, Maureen, at her Ridgewood home, at the time the fire broke out.
“I can’t even tell you how fast the fire broke out and the whole thing unfolded,” she explained. “I ran out of the house with no shoes on, that’s how quick it was.”
Mahwah firefighters extinguished the blaze Tuesday morning, but Stickel’s new home was completely destroyed. The township’s building official has deemed it uninhabitable, and all of the family’s possessions went up in smoke. Officials said the fire was likely caused by a faulty furnace, but an investigation is ongoing.
“It was probably the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me,” Stickel said. “The whole thing is just awful.”
Stickel and her daughter were left with the clothes they were wearing Tuesday morning, and a few items that were salvaged from the home after the fire. “Really one of the only things that made it was my fiancé’s ashes,” she said. “The box I kept them in got singed, but they are actually still here with us.”
Virtually everything else, was destroyed. “The real tragedy is that this was the first place we actually settled our family,” Stickel said. “Before this, I was literally sleeping on people’s couches.” The single mom said she isn’t sure exactly where she will go now, but her immediate plans include staying with her parents, and a trip to the social services office to see if she can be placed in a public housing facility.
Learning of Stickel’s hardship, many of the firefighters and police officers who responded to the fire Tuesday, have already started to help. The MPD’s Mahwah Municipal Alliance donate $150 worth of Shop Rite gift cards for some immediate food and diaper needs for the baby. The Mahwah PBA donated a $300 gift card, and the community group UNICO donated another $250 in gift cards. A firefighter donated a crib for Callie to sleep in, and police officer’s stopped by Stickel’s dad’s house Tuesday afternoon to drop off a new container for her fiancé’s ashes.
“I am not someone who likes to ask people for help,” Stickel said Tuesday evening. “But, already the outpouring of support has been amazing. I can’t even say how much I appreciate it.”
The Mahwah Police Department has set up donation boxes at its headquarters on Franklin Turnpike for locals who want to donate items to help Sarah and Callie.
Items that Stickel said she could use include:
- Women’s clothing, sizes 14-16 (casual and business attire; “I am gong to need some nice stuff to wear,” Stickel said. “I need to keep going on job interviews.”)
- Baby clothing, size 18 months
- Baby formula
- Shoes (Women's size 10)
- Personal hygiene items (shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc)
- Baby powder
- Baby wipes
- High Chair
- Umbrella stroller
- Baby bathtub
- A bed, and other large furniture items – “If someone has a bed to give, I will find a way to get it and store it. I am going to need things like a bed,” Stickel said.
Smaller items can be donated at the police station. Residents with large furniture items to donate should contact the police for more information.