Dream house goes up in smoke and flame

Lightning wipes out 23 years of memories, several pets
Jun. 15, 2013 @ 08:45 AM

Carla Hensley didn’t have much in the way of worldly possessions, but the dream home she built 23 years ago was to be her legacy for her children.

“I busted my rear end to make sure this house was good for them,” she said.

In less than a half hour Thursday, the 4,000-square-foot house was laid to ruin by a fire started by a bolt of lightning during the peak of a violent storm that swept through the area. Hensley had just stepped out of the shower about 3:30 p.m Thursday when the wind began to pick up outside. Thunder crashed. Katelyn, her 16-year-old, shouted the front porch was on fire.

“I heard a boom, and saw the porch up in flames,” Hensley recalled. “I called 911 and just started grabbing things, because the fire was spreading like a matchstick.”

Before the fire department arrived, she instinctively grabbed a garden hose, but with the strong winds fanning the flames, she was getting nowhere fast.

Flames raced through the main floor, then the attic of the two-story, vinyl-sided home.

Hensley's blind dog, Buster, had followed her out of the house. The Hensleys also got seven other dogs, two cats and two turtles out. Lucifer the albino ferrett and Sadie the rabbit didn't make it, and Oscar the three-legged cat was still missing Friday morning.

Hensley and her girls -- Leigh, 22, Megan, 20, Katelyn, 16, and her husband, Dean -- spent the night in the garage to keep an eye on any salvagable belongings. They will stay with relatives for the time being, and the American Red Cross has offered the family temporary shelter if needed.

The unmistakable acrid odor of wood smoke characteristic of house fires still hung thick in the air Friday morning as she sifted through the wet, charred rubble. She carefully tip-toed around fallen shingles, pieces of sheet rock and broken floor boards. In the living room, a large china cabinet given to her by her mother hugged the one remaining wall, dishes still neatly stacked behind glass. She dug for old photos handed down to her of a 1937 flood in West Virginia, her mother’s birthplace, but many pictures were destroyed, as well as some antiques.

More modern conveniences installed to customize the dream home, including a sit-down hot tub and matching appliances, are ruined.

Hensley spent much of Friday with her insurance adjuster. She hopes to rebuild, using the same design, but she is still dealing with the emotion of losing possessions connected to 23 years of memories.

“Right now, I’m just sick,” she lamented. “This was my pride and joy, I was married to this house."