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and check outside his bedroom. “He is a hard sleeper,” Heather remarked. “He has said it several times – he says, ‘I know Jesus made me get up.’ He was in that area where you’re asleep but not in a deep sleep yet. Typically, when he goes in his room, he’s done for the night, and we have older kids that kind of come and go, so it’s nothing for footsteps to be outside his room in the kitchen because everyone goes through there. He said he just felt something made him get out of bed and open up that door, thank goodness.”
The fire was raging, but was mostly located in the area outside near the home’s front porch. “When he was yelling that the house was on fire and that we needed to get up and get out, it was going pretty good at that time,” Brian explained. Upon getting out of the house, Brian worked to keep the fire contained by dowsing it with a water hose, as several fire departments arrived.
“I’m not sure what all departments there were – there were so, so many it seemed like. I know it was probably [departments from] New Branch, some guys from Lyons, and some of the guys from the prison. I did read the fire report and that’s what they were saying – that we were able to put it out the first time,” he added.
Brian continued, “Those guys – the firemen – really did a great job in my opinion. I mean, they were checking the walls; they had devices they used to check to see that there was no more heat. They stayed a couple hours — until around 3 a.m. — checking everything, tearing down the deck, and making sure everything was dowsed down. They put big fans in there because some smoke had gotten in the house, so they put ventilation fans in all the doorways and windows to suck out the smoke.”
Because of the smoke within the home, the family decided to stay the remainder of the night at the Stanley Lodge, which is located next to their home on Bud Clifton Road, and assess the home’s damage in the morning. As the night continued on, Brian struggled to sleep. “I kept coming outside, and I would look back at the house, and I could still see the outside lights and all. Everything seemed fine,” he recalled. “Then, I guess it was at 6 a.m., I had finally kind of dozed off a bit, and Heather started screaming, “The house is on fire!’” Heather’s cell phone had received an alert from the family’s home security footage; when she checked the camera’s live stream, she could see the flames overtaking the home. “You could see it licking from the inside of the window. So, it had gone inside the house at that time,” Brian said.
The couple left Stone sleeping at the lodge and rushed over to home to attempt to contain the fire. “I tried using the same water hose [as I used before], but the water couldn’t really reach the fire because it was inside,” Brian remarked. “Heather was talking to 911, and they said they were coming, but it was just moving too fast that time.”
When asked how she felt discovering the fire through the camera footage, Heather commented, “It was horrible because I knew. The windows were blowing up, and I knew. It hit that back window that overlooked the lake, and I mean it went straight to the roof. I knew at that point, that was it. They couldn’t have gotten here fast enough – there’s no way. They did everything they could – I felt so bad for them. Those firemen worked so hard. They had even been punching holes and walls in our ceilings to check for burning embers [after the first fire]. They said, ‘We hate to do this, but we’ve got to check.’ They tested everything and did everything they should have.”
The couple said the returning firemen were emotional as they discovered the home engulfed in flames. Both the house and the family’s vehicles were total losses, but no one was injured – not even the family dog. The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.
Brian and Heather said that they do not blame the firemen at all for the second fire, and truly believe the men had done everything they could to prevent the disaster. ““We just came up here two days ago and it was still smoking and fire – so, this stuff is hard to put out,” Brian stressed.
Yet, even in the midst of destruction, the Stanley family has found hope within the community, and have even shifted their priorities to the things which they believe truly matter. “We want to refocus on some important things. Your faith, your family, your friends – that’s what matters. We got to not forget how we were feeling this time last week,” Brian explained.
“We have a very loving and generous community – they have wrapped their arms around us It’s very humbling,” Heather expressed tearfully. “They have loved us and supported us in a lot of ways. We’ve done things [to support others], and we thought maybe we understood, but its completely different when you’re in these shoes. It’s something that is so important to us, and that as a family, we want to pay things forward and continue to do for other people before things even happen. Don’t wait for it to happen because it’s right around the corner for somebody else.”
“It’s people that we know and it’s people that we don’t know [that are giving and helping us],” Brian elaborated. “We’ve been in this community forever— Heather and the Ropers, and me and the Stanleys. So, people know that we are going to be okay because we both have big, supportive families and they’re going to look after us, but they continued to keep giving to us even though they knew that we would be okay eventually. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s bad, and we don’t know where we’re going to go next, but luckily and thankfully for us, her parents were here and my parents were here. Our church, our preacher – people were here and they care about us, and that’s what really gets me more emotional than what I’ve lost is what people are doing for us.”
The family shared their gratitude for the American Red Cross and the United Way of Toombs, Montgomery, and Wheeler Counties, as they said that these agencies reached out immediately to the couple to seek ways which they could help. “It’s good for us to see first hand that they do that. You see it on TV, but its different seeing it in person. It makes a hope that when people hear about it, that they choose to support those groups because they were there,” Brian remarked.
The couple said this tragedy has also reminded them of the importance of empathy for others. “So, for our family and children, I want us to have more empathy for what’s going on in this world now because its easy to walk by your TV and see floods, fires, and people crying, and you just see it all the time,” Brian continued. “Those people have feelings and as a community and as people, we need to make sure we care about everybody and just try to help them if we can. There are plenty of people who don’t know how to help – I’ve had hundreds tell me to let them know what they can do – and it does feel good for them to at least reach out and you know that they are there. But there’s people who don’t have people; there’s people that don’t have support groups – and that’s where we have got to try to help. That’s what I’m challenging my kids right now while its still so fresh on all of our minds on how we are feeling right now – think of those people that don’t have somewhere to go or someone to help.”
“It’s still bad,” Brian clarified. “My daughter recently said, ‘It’s not that we lost what we got for Christmas last year – it’s that we lost that room where we opened presents together and made all the memories.’” The family currently is scattered, as they stay with several relatives, but hope to meet soon to develop a plan for the future. Until then, they will continue to share their message of hope and gratitude with the community. “We want something good to come out of this, and if its our community and all these people that have supported these causes, or people that don’t and read this and think that maybe they should support these things before something happens – that is good,” Heather concluded.