The Sorise Family’s Road to Recovery: How Ms. Sorise and her Family Heal After their House Fire


The Sorise family enjoys a fun day of festive fall activities together.

Alexis Dorf

At 5 a.m. on Sunday, August 14, social studies teacher Ms. Michelle Sorise’s husband casually plugged in his electric bike for his weekly commute to retrieve his family’s Sunday morning breakfast. He lay back into bed, anticipating the start of his ordinary Sunday morning routine.

The previous night, Ms. Sorise had fallen asleep in her child’s bedroom. At 5:45 that morning, she awoke to a frantic voice coming from outside of the room. She bolted out of the chair she slept on and darted out the door to find her panic-stricken husband. She soon realized he was searching for a fire extinguisher. Earlier that morning, the lithium-ion battery of his e-bike unexpectedly exploded in their bedroom. 

Within seven minutes, the following series of events occurred: Ms. Sorise assisted her son and mother out of the house. Her mother called 911, while Ms. Sorise brought a fire extinguisher to her husband. In her bedroom, sparks flew from her husband’s e-bike. Suddenly, one piece of the lithium battery from the e-bike caught fire on her mattress. The flames quickly engulfed the mattress, and the heat swiftly took over the room. After being overwhelmed by the smoke, her husband closed the bedroom door and exited the house. A police officer came onto the scene. All he could do was escort the Sorise family toward safety. 

During the immediate aftermath, fire investigators, Red Cross officials, and fire marshals arrived at the scene. “It felt like a whirlwind, it was almost surreal because you didn’t really know what was going on. I was really overwhelmed,” said Ms. Sorise. Her wallet, phones, clothing, and personal belongings all remained inside her house—further adding to the chaos. 

After the fire, the Sorise family underwent a period of adjustment. They worked with public officials, lawyers, and their insurance company to discard the chaos the flames left behind. “It was hard, there were probably about 11 people in my house [on one of four days of restoration], none of which I knew. Nobody really made eye contact with me. A bunch of people I didn’t know were touching and cleaning my things. I think there’s definitely a shock and a trauma that comes with this. But mostly I tried to figure out how to move forward and keep things calm for my son.” 

Currently, Allstate is holding a subrogation trial against the bike maker and battery company to hold them accountable for the battery failure and fire. Sorise and her family temporarily live in an apartment. Luckily, there were no injuries caused by the fire. 

“What I’ve come to learn is there’s a process,” said Ms. Sorise, “but there was someone with me for almost every step of the way.” With the help of firefighters, police family, friends, lawyers, public officials, and of course her family’s love, Sorise slowly got back on her feet. She hired a public adjuster thanks to the help of her neighbor, who offered her his knowledge as a practicing lawyer. Other neighbors lent her shoes to wear, food, and temporary shelter for her son immediately after the fire. “My neighbors are the most incredible people I’ve ever met,” she explained. Eventually, officials returned some of their personal belongings, such as her computer.  

“Our school community was a big portion of the outreach,” explains Sorise, “the community helped us heal.” The news of the fire spread quickly to the South community. Within 48 hours, Sorise’s family was offered clothing, sheets, food and meals, toys, books, and endless support. Teachers, students, South High alumni, old basketball players on Ms. Sorise’s past teams, administration members, board of education members, parents of students, and custodial staff all offered a shoulder for the family to lean on during the rough patch. “Immediately everyone went into action,” Sorise explains. Other members of the South High community offered advice, some having personal fire experiences or knowledge on fires. “My phone blew up. It’s wonderful how so many people care, but also slightly overwhelming!” 

The value of community is often overlooked, yet crucial in times of despair and hardship.  Sorise’s story instills an important reminder: it takes a village. Most importantly, we are reminded that our South High community is an amazing network of students and faculty that is always there for us in times of need.