BY FAITH HARPER, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sixteen people, including 10 children, are without a home and Christmas after a Sunday afternoon fire.
Whitehouse Volunteer Fire Department Chief John Hargis said crews were called to the home on County Road 2173, off Farm-to-Market Road 756 west of Whitehouse, at 2:39 p.m.
Hargis said by the time crews arrived the fire already spread to the roof and was moving rapidly from the west side of the house to the east. The seat of the fire was in the living room, which was a converted garage.
Three generations of a family lived in the home.
Marcus Jones, 43, said, on Saturday night, the electricity went out and he flipped the breaker to switch it back on. Jones said when he did, he could smell smoke.
“We really didn’t pay much attention because we had a wood heater in there, and that’s what we thought it was,” he said.
On Sunday, a fuse blew again and Jones flipped the breaker a second time with the help of his brother-in-law.
Jones said he went outside to smoke a cigarette when he turned around and saw smoke coming from the door.
“I ran and took the bolts off the breaker box because I was (going to) try to put it out if I could, and I guess when it got oxygen, it just took off,” Jones said. “There was a mattress right there in front, and once it hit the mattress, that was it.”
Jelissa Murphy, 24, said once she heard the word “fire,” her first priority was to get 10 children out of the home.
Ms. Murphy said the children were running toward their rooms in the back of the house, and she scooped three of them up as they were running past her in the hallway.
“I grabbed my sister’s oldest little girl and my two little girls and pulled them on out of there,” she said.
She said a newborn was the first to make it out of the home.
Firefighters labeled the home a total loss, and the American Red Cross was called to help the family. The family was renting the home and did not have renters insurance.
The family said they felt blessed that everyone made it out safely.
“Those other things — those are material things — you can replace all of that, but you can’t replace a life …” Ms. Murphy said. “I’m feeling blessed that the kids and grownups got out of there safely because it could have been worse than it was. All that stuff is replaceable.”
The children had a difficult time grasping the reality of the fire, Ms. Murphy said.
“There isn’t a kid out here that has a coat on their back,” she said. “The kids broke down crying — worse than the grownups — not knowing where they are going to lay their head down, not knowing any of that because they have never been through something like this before.”
While the grownups worked out a plan, the children stayed in a warm car for a few hours Sunday afternoon.
Ms. Murphy had some advice for anyone who thinks they have electrical issues in their homes.
“If you have electrical problems, you need to get it fixed before it gets out of control because you lose pretty much your whole life in that one spot …” she said. “I don’t wish this on (anybody).”
Whitehouse, Flint-Gresham and Bullard volunteer fire departments responded to the scene, along with the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Whitehouse Police Department.
A total of 23 firefighters and nine trucks responded to the call.
The exact cause of the fire is under investigation by the Smith County Fire Marshal’s Office.
Donations for the families can be made at the Whitehouse Volunteer Fire Department, 303 E. Main St., and at the Flint-Gresham Volunteer Fire Department, 18823 Farm-to-Market Road 2493 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.