A gaping hole where the roof once was and blackened bricks on the outside of the south Tyler house give only an inkling of the destruction inside.
“From the street, it doesn’t look nearly as devastating as it actually is,” homeowner Karen Peterson said. “From the front door, it takes your breath away, the devastation that is inside.”
Ms. Peterson came home Sunday afternoon to find a street full of fire trucks and a shell of her house at 6300 Sutherland Drive.
Firefighters suspect the blaze had been burning for at least 30 minutes before they arrived.
Ms. Peterson and her youngest daughter, Emma, 8, had gone out for an early dinner when they came back to find the shocking scene of their house on fire.
“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” Ms. Peterson said of her reaction at the time, adding that she really hasn’t stopped saying that since then.
The longtime Tyler resident, and mother of two, works at Tyler Junior College as an English professor. She is the mother to Sydney, 12, and Emma, 8, and had enjoyed a day of mother-daughter bonding activities with her youngest on Sunday before the blaze. Sydney was out of town.
On Monday, Ms. Peterson was just trying to take it one step at a time in a situation that was incredibly overwhelming.
Born in Dallas and raised in Tyler, Ms. Peterson is no stranger to trials. In 2003, her 3-month-old son died, and in 2005 her husband died of complications from a back surgery. Ms. Peterson was pregnant with Emma at the time.
It was then that she realized she had to do something to keep herself from spiraling downward. And that’s when she decided to focus on the silver lining.
The silver lining is the idea that “even in absolutely horrible situations, there can be something ridiculously tiny to be thankful for,” Ms. Peterson said. “We’ve done that in all these crises that we face in our lives, we look for the positive. Sometimes, it’s the most trivial things to be grateful for, but the more of them you look for, the more of them you find.”
In this situation, one of the silver linings relates to some of the doors that their French mastiff, Bones, had damaged by chewing.
Ms. Peterson was trying to decide when, or if, she should replace the doors, but now that decision has been taken out of her hands.
Another positive is that she recovered a bracelet her oldest daughter had received for Christmas.
Also, because all the family was gone at the time of the fire, and the two dogs were in the back yard, no one was injured.
Still the days are hard as this is uncharted territory for Ms. Peterson, but she has relatives in town, and the TJC community is coming together to help the family.
Gloria Brooks, a TJC English professor, said the Peterson Family Fire Fund has been set up at Austin Bank and people can contribute at any of the area bank locations.
In addition, the family is in need of clothing for the two girls. The 12-year-old wears a junior size 9 in pants and a medium size top. The 8-year-old wears size 8 pants for kids and a kid’s medium top. Donations can be dropped off at 4022 Post Oak Road in Tyler.
Maybe the silver lining in this case is that “people are going to pull together on their behalf,” Ms. Brooks said.
The cause of the fire remained undetermined after the Fire Marshal’s Office completed its investigation.
Deputy Fire Marshal Tony Gumber said there were no signs of forced entry or foul play. He suspects a candle might have started it, but wasn’t comfortable enough to pin it on that.
The house, which was insured, sustained heavy fire and smoke damage and is considered to be a total loss, according to an email from the Tyler Fire Department.