Counting blessings after a blaze

Published 8:37 am Friday, June 12, 2009

FRANKLIN—Bishop James Ashby stepped carefully as he trekked through the smoldering remains of his family’s home.

The pastor of Franklin Church of God negotiated through the twisted wreckage with a small yellow note pad, jotting down some of the items that were lost in Tuesday morning’s blaze.

He looked with disbelief at the fire’s destruction: melted appliances, charred books, ruined photo albums, windows devoid of glass.

And although all of his possessions were lost in the fire, he still counts himself to be truly blessed because all seven members of his family were able to escape the fire relatively unscathed.

“After we were all out of the house, I was content watching the flames,” Ashby said Thursday from the back yard of his former home. “We struggle to acquire possessions, but there’s nothing more precious than family.”

Ashby said the fire started at about 3 a.m. Tuesday when he, his wife, two sons, one daughter and two infant grandchildren were all asleep in the house on Carrsville Highway. He awoke when he smelled smoke and ran outside to see flames above a bedroom on the east end of the house, right above where his two sons were sleeping.

“I started banging on the windows, yelling at them to wake up,” Ashby said.

At that point, Ashby turned his attention to the other end of the house, where his two infant grandchildren were sleeping. He ran back inside and was able to get them, his daughter and his wife out of the house.

Later, he saw his sons walk around the outside corner of the house. They had apparently heard their father’s shouts, but the smoke was so thick in their room that they could not shout back. The sons used an electric guitar to smash a bedroom window to escape the blaze.

“There is no reunion like being reunited with someone you thought you lost,” Ashby said.

The pastor said a fire investigator with the State Police told him the fire was more than likely caused by a blower fan in the attic that shorted out. Ashby said sparks from the short might have ignited Christmas ornaments and decorations that were being held in storage near the fan.

“Everything melted,” Ashby said while stepping through the charred remains of his home. “Every television set in the house melted. It’s amazing just to see what that amount of heat can do,” adding that firefighters told him the fire may have even been hotter because the house was brick.

Ashby said the house may have been under-insured, but said negotiations between the church and its insurance company were continuing.

The family is receiving assistance from several sources while they search for temporary housing. Ashby said the American Red Cross has paid for all seven family members to stay in two rooms at the Franklin Days Inn for three nights. The Red Cross also donated money for immediate needs such as tennis shoes and medicine, Ashby said.

“Neighbors and parishioners have been offering what they can,” Ashby said. “People have responded with a lot of love and prayers, and we are deeply grateful.”

Ashby has already been back to the lectern since the fire; the church held a service on Wednesday evening.

“We were just rejoicing that all (or our family members) are well,” Ashby said. “It was a thanksgiving service for God’s protection.”