In wake of house fire, community rallied behind family

Published 3:58 am Saturday, January 31, 2009

On Jan. 6, our family lost our home to a fire. A senior fire investigator quickly determined that it was a faulty power strip (not an unattended dryer as previously reported in The Tidewater News) that ignited the blaze, and we fully realize how lucky we are that it happened in the middle of the day when nobody was at home.

When I received the call at work from my husband, I was in disbelief. I jumped in my car and headed back to Franklin from Capron.

Somewhere near Southampton High School, I went from feeling nauseous and apprehensive to completely serene. I had been thinking, “What am I going to do about everything that we lose?” After all, the children hadn’t even had a chance to play with most of their toys they just received at Christmas! But suddenly those thoughts were replaced with, “It’s just stuff. Nobody was injured … it’s just STUFF.” I was almost startled at how quickly my emotions had changed.

All the way down Camp Parkway to Clay Street, I searched the sky for signs of the blaze. Nothing. Perhaps it wasn’t that bad after all. As I turned from Hunterdale Road onto Cypress Avenue, however, the multiple fire and police vehicles and yellow tape told a different story. I parked in a random driveway and walked down the street to my house.

As I stared at the gaping hole in my roof, I slowly began to notice how many people were already there to show their love and support. A friend of mine from a bigger city grumbled, “Didn’t it bother you to have all those people there gawking at your house on fire?” I felt bad for her. She can’t comprehend that our small-town community was there as pillars of strength for me and my family, not out of morbid curiosity.

Before the city finished hanging the neon orange signs condemning my house, friends left to get plywood and tarps to patch up the roof and windows. By nightfall we were in a hotel, and my children, as well as my husband and I, had received donations of clothing to help us in the days ahead.

By the week’s end, word-of-mouth led us to a furnished home that we are able to rent until mid- to late summer, when it is projected that the repairs will be completed to our house. My parents soon arrived with groceries to get us started.

Some people look at me with sad eyes when they hear that almost everything we had was damaged beyond repair by smoke, soot or flames. Even the people charged with the task of cleaning what could be saved have mentioned that they are distressed to have to discard so many items, because certainly some of them must be sentimental.

I laughed and told them that if somebody told me on Jan. 5th that my house was going to catch on fire, I would have scrambled to save everything. Knowing how very different the outcome would have been if the blaze had begun at 1 a.m. instead of in the afternoon put a whole new spin on things.

I don’t need to hold my 3-year-old son’s first blanket to remember how I felt the day he was born. The stockpile of school supplies I had for my 8-year-old son can be replaced. My 2-year-old daughter is happy with any baby dolls, not just the ones she had. I went home each day to be with my family, not my stuff. I still have my family, and for that I am eternally grateful.

If I could offer one piece of advice to all, invest in a small fire extinguisher to keep in your bedroom. Our fire started in the bedroom and was so intense that it burned a hole through the floor right by the door and melted the light fixture in the bathroom two rooms away. Although we could have exited through a window in the rear of the room, the only path to my children would have been to battle the flames, and for those of you who have children, I am sure you understand that I would have been one charred woman when it was all said and done! (Some of the donations we have received have been earmarked for extinguishers, as well as for a fire-proof safe to store all the replacement birth certificates and Social Security cards.)

On behalf of me, my husband, my children (Joshua, Jordan and Gabrielle) and my mother-in-law, Dottie Augustine, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the following individuals and organizations that have so graciously donated their time or money in an effort to help us get back on our feet. We are blessed to live in such a wonderful community.

American Red Cross, Franklin Fire Department, Hunterdale Fire Department, Franklin Police Department, Ms. Armstrong (SHCC), Dayna and Cole Barnette, Trey Beale, Ben and Missy Blythe, Bobby’s Muffler, Bronco Federal Credit Union, Ms. Bryant (FHS Security), Al Bulls, Carolyn Carrico, Carole Dixon, Paige Drewery, Sam Drewry, Angie and Richie Edwards, Brent and Dara Epperly, Meredith Faison, Farm Bureau Insurance, Travis and Kristen Felts, Brian and Elaine Fenters, FHS Football Family, FHS HOSA, FHS Wrestling Team, Foot Locker and Lady Foot Locker, the Foxes of Robinhood Road, Lisa Francis, Louise Gastonguay, Jeff and Mandy Hall, Katie and Joey Holland, Starr Harris, Hop, Lynn Ivey, Jim and Glenda Jervey, Trina and Ronald Johnson, Sam Jones, Glen and Janet Joyner and girls, Dave and Pam Lease, Dee Dee Majette, Tim and Susan Moore, Tim Moore Jr., Lisa Morin, Mrs. Ivey’s second-grade class, Darren and Weynette Parker, Bill and Rendy Powers, Ms. Presnall, Ken Raybuck, Karl Robertson, Donna Rogers, S. P. Morton Family Reading Night, S. P. Morton PTA, Schewel’s, The Seddon family, Calvin and Marie Sing, Don Spengeman, Chuck and Tammy Steinert, Mona and Dennis Sumblin, Mr. and Mrs. Butch Turner, Sonny and Susan Vick, Wakefield United Methodist Church, Donna and MJ White, Winnie and Keith Williams, and everyone else who has sent thoughts and prayers our way.