VAN DIJK FAMILY
Location: Lander, WY
Date Of Injury: July 15, 2014
July 15, 2014 is still imprinted in my mind and occasionally I wake up sweating and in tears when all five senses bring me back to that evening that tore my family’s lives apart. No-one may ever know where the spark came from that silently ignited the front porch of the cabin.
Nothing seemed out of place until the fire exploded through the front door as Noelle Weimann Van Dijk and Feike Van Dijk were feeding their children. In a few short minutes, two of their five children were dead, their house was destroyed and their lives upended. The incredible heat of the fir flash-burned Feike, a Dutch immigrant, as he opened the front door to see where the smoke was coming from.
While Feike was rushing from the house, his 8-month-old son, Ephraim’s hair and scalp ignited causing life-threatening burns. Noel rescued Ephraim’s twin sister, Sabine and their eldest son, Able, ran out of the house on his own.
By then, no-one could get back into the house to save their 2-year-old, Noah nor their 4-year-old, Zeehan. Both perished in the fire. “If anyone got a foot near the door, your ears and nose started melting” Noelle said. “It was insanity, and to know we couldn’t save our kids was the most horrifying and gruesome thing I’ve ever been through in my life.”
Both Feike and Ephraim were immediately life-flighted to to University of Utah Burn Unit in Salt Lake City, Feike with third degree burns and Ephraim with third and fourth degree burns. Noel was treated at the local hospital for second and third degree burns.
The trauma of losing his children made Feike unable to begin working his new job 2 months after he was discharged out of the burn unit, which involved providing emotional support to clients. He was granted medical leave, but was soon laid off. Noelle, also a social worker, was similarly unable to work in the aftermath. “There was no way we could do anything except have the bare emotion to cry ourselves to sleep,” Noelle said. “It took at least eight months before the grief started to lift, and she began thinking about tomorrow and resuming work. It was this nucleus of pain,” she said. There was just so much loss and devastation, and when you add finances on it, you can understand how people go crazy.
The Van Dijks participated in the demolition of their former home in Sept. 2014, a therapeutic act Feike referred to as demolishing that demon.
The Van Dijks’ story continues. Noelle & Feike continue to thrive and stayed in the small town called Lander Wyoming on the feet of Yellowstone National Park. With the help of their community they were able to purchase an art gallery, Noelle picked up her skills and education and started making art again, which is a great therapeutic outlet. Feike is in training to become a firefighter with the goal to prevent a tragedy like theirs to happen in the community. He hopes that next to being a physical help “fighting his demons” he can also be of an emotional and spiritual help for the first responders in his community but also for families that go through tragedy. Although the physical burns of Feike and Noelle have healed extremely well, their emotional and mental scars are still fresh and need care by specialists on weekly basis. Ephraim’s burns need quite often treatments and visits the children hospital and burn unit in Salt Lake City which is 5.5 hrs away. #loveforthevandijks has been the hashtag initiated by friends all over the world showing support to the family. Feike also writes a blog sharing his journey through grief, pain and hope.