Just a few seconds – that's all Thomas Brodie, Ruth Copeland, and family had to run out their front door when fire suddenly engulfed their home Sunday evening.
Copeland credits their escape disaster plan and God's hand upon them for saving their lives.
“It was Father's Day so we had gone to town to pick up some T-Bone steaks,” said Copeland. “We got home and it was so hot, I just wanted to rest a little while. I changed into pajama shorts and a tank top. That's all I had on.”
Copeland, who has custody of her four grandchildren, said she first changed her little girl's diaper and then laid down on the couch with her to rest.
“Isaiah helps by throwing away the diapers. He went down the hallway and ran back 'Mom, there's smoke coming from under the back door,'” Copeland said. “I told him to run out the front and get dad. Next thing I know (Brodie) runs in and yells 'Get out! Get out!' so I grabbed my purse and got the kids, and grabbed the bag of diapers that was right there and then had to drag the 3-year-old. She didn't want to come.”
Her 3-year-old child has numerous medical issues, Copeland said, including Down Syndrome and Autism. She also suffers from seizures.
“She kept saying no and I had to drag her off the couch,” Copeland said. “By the time I got to the front door which is right next to the couch, the entire wall was on fire.”
But she had always told the children, in case of fire or other disaster — head to the car and she will join them there.
“And that's what they did. They got out and ran to the car. I'm so proud of them. The eldest had the baby and the other boy had the little boy by the hand. I threw the keys as far as I could towards the front yard and the oldest (8 years old) got the keys and helped get everyone into the car,” she said as she cried. “I was looking around for my mother's photograph. That's all I have left of her but (Brodie) yelled at me that there was no time and he kicked down the screen door. Just then an explosion — like a torchlight — hit the living room. I could feel the blaze on the back of my legs as we both ran out. I woke up all night reliving that. If it wasn't for him, I'd be dead. But he's always been like that. He won't go out first and pull us, he pushed us out and then was the last one out.”
Copeland said she drove to her sister's house a half mile away and they called 9-1-1 from there.
When fire engines arrived, the family was forced to watch their home engulfed in flames from the Southwest corner of Conner Street and East Success Drive.
When the flames hit the east side of the house, where the gas lines are, flames were coming out of the lines.
“It was after midnight by the time we were allowed to see our home,” Copeland said. “But it was dark. We couldn't really see anything. When we came Monday morning, it was all gone.”
After living there for six years, almost everything was gone. A mini cast iron pan with a rooster on it was the only thing left hanging from a nail on one wall.
In addition, a blanket with two angels survived the fire, Copeland said.
“I had nothing of my mom's,” Copeland said through tears. “Then my nephew Patrick walked in and came out with this blanket. I just cried. I'm very, very grateful.”
Brodie and Copeland talked about the sadness of leaving their home.
“We will miss being in that little area,” said Copeland of the east side of town. “These are good people. We all look out after each other. There must be 12 to 13 children here who lost their stuff that night. Our neighbor has two babies. There are four children there and four or five in the next home. It's sad. It's hard. Especially with special needs children.”
The home next door had its roof and siding burned, Brodie said. But the fire eventually jumped the creek and burned on the north bank, Brodie said, taking a boat, several chickens and a couple of goats.
“I believe I was targeted,” Brodie said as he stared at his home's shell. “I am trying to figure out what went wrong. This fire was started by someone. You can see where it was set and the wind was blowing this way. Wind was pushing the fire this way. I believe it was deliberately set by someone. We've never had any fires back there. Never. Now everything has been destroyed. We can't salvage anything.”
Copeland said she's grateful to God for sparing their lives and for giving her family who care and stayed at their side through the fire. She referred to her nephews, Larry and Travis, who have been at her side since they learned of the fire.
“They've been my rock. I can't express all the love and gratitude I have towards them. God saved us. One second longer and the fire would have gotten us all,” Copeland said. “I'm grateful to God. We will make it. It will be hard but we'll come back bigger and stronger.”
Donations of clothes and shoes are needed for the children, two girls age 8 and 3 both wear size 10-12.
The two boys are age 5 and 6, and wear size 4-5, and size 5-6, respectively. In addition, the children need shoes in children sizes 1, 5, 11, and 12.
Call 559-792-8259 with any donations.
In addition, a go-fund-me page has also been set up by Copeland's daughter Joyce McLaughlin to help the family. Visit https://gofund.me/477efaec to donate.