Couple barely escapes New Year's Eve fire

Jan. 03, 2014 @ 08:16 AM

Seth Whisenant and Penny McCraw were too tired Tuesday night to ring in the New Year, so they called it an early night and went to bed. Besides, he was going to ride motorcycles with his buddies the next day, and she had to pull a morning shift at her job at Wilkes Regional Medical Center.

But before the clock struck midnight, they were scrambling for their lives.

McCraw woke, stood up and felt intense heat in the back of her throat as she took a breath.

"I couldn't even see, so I yelled for Seth to get up," she said.

Whisenant opened the bedroom door and was hit with thick rolls of hot smoke.

"When I got to the door I could see flames," he said.

The fire was between them and the front door of the house, but the bedroom had its own door to the outside, so the two rushed out barefoot and wearing only what they had been sleeping in.

As Whisenant got their vehicles out of the way and rescued the two pet dogs, McCraw headed up the hill to neighbor Mark Papuga's house and banged on the door. Papuga could already see the house glowing orange.

Volunteers with the Kings Creek, Yadkin Valley, Valmead and Boomer fire and rescue squads beat down the flames, but the two-bedroom house they shared at 4246 Helton Farm Road, built in the 1930s out of white pine, was destroyed. The cause of the fire is under investigation, but Deputy Fire Marshal Kevin Brown said it started near a wood stove in the kitchen between 11:30 and 11:45 p.m.

Instead of going to work Wednesday, McCraw just stared in disbelief at the ruins, which included old hand-made furniture, including a dresser and corner hutch that once stood proudly in the bedroom.

"That's been the hardest thing to take," McCraw said. "Those are things that can't be replaced."

The house had no smoke detectors, and no insurance. The couple are staying at the nearby home of Linda Helton, Whisenant's grandmother. New Year's Day was a blur of church members, family and friends dropping in to donate clothes, coats, shoes and other needed items. They hadn't had time to stop and think about what happened.

"We've not really had time to sit down and talk about it," McCraw said. This was not a good way to start the new year."

McCraw offered advice to prevent what happened to them from happening to others.

"People need to know to have a fire safety plan, to have a way to get out," she said, "and check your wood stove. It was all we could do to get out."