It was a usual Saturday on Oct. 28 for Peg Durrer, 75, owner of the Antique Emporium in Camel.
She had concluded a busy day at her business in the Monon Place Plaza. She cooked herself dinner and went to bed around midnight with the plan of working the next day. Her dog, Ivy, a black Lab-mix she rescued with her husband 12 years ago, slept under her bed, which was customary.
“It was a very normal day,” she said. “But when you go to bed at night you truly don’t know what your next day is going to be like.”
She awoke at approximately 5:30 a.m. Oct. 29 to the smell of smoke and the sounds of beeping smoke detectors. She went downstairs — barefoot and in her pajamas — to find large flames rising in the two-story Carmel house she has lived in since 1965 near Carmel High School.
She said she’s not sure what started the fire but that fire crews suspect that it was electrical in nature, possibly started by an outlet with a space heater plugged in, one Durrer said she hasn’t turned on in years.
“I thought, ‘Focus, focus. Do what you’ve got to do,’’’ she said.
She said she knew Ivy followed her downstairs but then Durrer couldn’t find her.
“I went back into the house as far as I could get, three times, to get her,” she said. “But I had to (leave).”
Durrer looked around and saw antiques and family heirlooms, but she said she knew she had to get out for her own safety.
“I knew it was bad enough that I wasn’t supposed to save anything,” she said. “I grabbed my cellphone and my purse and got out,” she said, adding that she quickly moved her vehicles so they wouldn’t be subject to possible explosion.
When it was all over, she was left with a charred remainder of a home she won’t be able to inhabit again without extensive work.
Firefighters went into the blazing home to try to find Durrer’s dog. They found her in the dining room. Unfortunately, Ivy didn’t make it.
“The Carmel Fire Dept. (personnel) have to be the nicest people on the planet,” she said. “They brought (Ivy) to the garage and covered her up and said they’d help bury her the next day.”
She opted to take Ivy to Carter Animal Hospital, whose owner, Dr. David Carter, actually interned with Durrer’s now late husband, John. The hospital was to have cremated Ivy and memorialized her.
John Durrer, who died in March 2014, was the first veterinarian in Carmel, when the Durrers moved to the area in the mid-1960s. They had plenty of pets, but Ivy was their first rescue dog and she had the sweetest, most loyal personality, Durrer said.
“She just bonded to my husband right away,” she said. “He would have breathing problems and she would just come to me if she thought he was in distress. He would take her everywhere he went. He would play bridge at the Carmel Lions Club and bring her along. She just went everywhere. The last four years of his life he couldn’t drive and so she went anywhere I took him.”
When John Durrer died, Peg clung to the dog as one of her constant reminders of her late husband.
“The grieving process was very hard for her and you actually could see it,” she said. “But after four months she actually bonded to me as much as she was to him.”
Ivy would go to the Antique Emporium every day with Durrer and greet customers.
“That will be one of the hard parts,” she said. “People will ask me where she is if they don’t know.”
In memory of Ivy, one of her friends brought an ivy plant to Durrer’s shop.
Alan Potasnik, a member of the Carmel Plan Commission and former Carmel city councilor, helped reach out to identify people who might be able to help Durrer with her immediate needs. Carmel City Councilor Jeff Worrell also has assisted in developing a list of people who are willing to help.
Many people know and love Durrer through her longtime activism with the Republican Party in Carmel and in Hamilton County. Potasnik said Durrer helped his family when they went through hard times, and he called her a gem of the community.
“It’s just marvelous that the community has stepped up to help her in her time of need,” Potasnik said.
He said more than 100 people reached out to him the first day.
Durrer said it hurts her to think of living in a different dwelling. There are a lot of memories in her four-bedroom home. She raised three kids there, and she hosted Thanksgiving and Christmas for her family, including six grandchildren, for many years.
She’s currently staying with a neighbor she’s known for decades while she waits to hear from her insurance company.
Durrer said she doesn’t know if the house will be declared a total loss, but it appears that some of the structural parts can be saved. That means she might try to rebuild, which could take months. She’ll try to find temporary housing until then. She said she had all she needs for now. Clothing was the biggest concern but that wasn’t lost to the fire.
Nonetheless, she said she knows she’ll survive the tragedy as a result of the support of the people of Carmel.
“I’m just overwhelmed by the support,” she said.
How to help
For more information on how to provide assistance, email city councilor Jeff Worrell at firstname.lastname@example.org.