Fires leave Roan Mountain, Watauga families homeless

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   A Roan Mountain family of six lost everything they owned and a Watauga couple lost all but a few personal items during separate structure fires Tuesday evening.
   Around 6:45 p.m., Lisa Crews, her husband, Steven; their daughters, Lexi, 9; Terri, 8; and son, Nick, 10; along with her brother-in-law, David, were gathered around the monitor heater in the living room of the mobile home they rented in the Burbank Community.
   "My brother-in-law just moved here from Mississippi. He's real cold-natured," Crews said. "We had the hall blocked off so that the heat would stay in the living room and we were all sitting there talking. The kids got a little tape recorder (for Christmas) and they were singing in it and playing it back.
   "I told them to get ready to take a bath and my husband said that he would go and get their bath water ready and get some towels and all that. When he opened the curtain, he could hear the smoke alarm in the hall beeping. It's not real loud.
   "He said, 'Wait a minute,' and he opened the bedroom door, and when he did a flame shot out. I could see it in the living room. It was like a flash. And he just started screaming, 'Get out!'
   "The kids ran out and then he went next door to call the fire department. My brother-in-law and I were trying to salvage whatever we could, but the electricity went out so we couldn't see to get anything. It didn't take five minutes till it was gone -- everything," she said.
   Crews said she went back into the burning trailer to try to find her tennis shoes. "The fire was at the end of the hall. I felt around and found my shoes, and when I stood up, it was almost in the kitchen. I said, 'I'm getting out of here. I'm not looking for anything else.'
   "We lost everything, but we're safe. If I'd have put one of the kids in the bathtub there would have been no way to get them out of there. The bathroom's right next to our bedroom," she said, where the fire is believed to have started in the electrical box.
   The Crews have a poodle named Sophie. She, too, managed to escape.
   "In fact, she thought we were going somewhere because when the kids were running out the door, saying, 'Where do we go? Where do we go?' I said, 'Get in the van, shut the door and stay there.'
   "When Sophie heard 'Get in the van,' she thought we were going somewhere, so she got in it, too.
   "The kids lost all of their Christmas presents. The school (Cloudland) gave them a couple of gifts apiece this morning, but as far as what they got, it was gone," she said.
   Crews broke down Tuesday night when thought that videos of her wedding and the couple's children had been destroyed. When the family returned to the fire scene Wednesday to see whether there was anything salvageable, she said, "All of my videos of the kids and my wedding video were in the yard.
   "Constable Leonard Johnson strapped on tanks and went inside the house," she said. The tapes found in the yard -- the only shred of family history remaining -- she believes were saved by Johnson. "They're smoky, but they're there," she said.
   The Crews' children didn't sleep at all Tuesday night after the fire, their mother said, but insisted on going to school Wednesday because it was their first day at the new Cloudland Elementary school.
   The mother-in-law of a friend went and bought each child an outfit for Wednesday. "My youngest daughter ran out in long underwear and one sock. If I don't wash what she has on now, she won't have anything to wear tomorrow," Crews said.
   The couple are looking for another home in the area. "I'd love to stay in Roan Mountain because the people here have been great," she said. "I'm from a big city in Mississippi, so it's overwhelmed me.
   "Down there, people just don't care. ... Here, the sheriff came by. Everybody's just been so helpful. Our landlord is a volunteer fireman. While we were trying to call him to tell him the house was on fire, he was at the house putting the fire out."
   Crews has been on disability 15 years due to back problems. Her husband suffered a collapsed lung about three years ago and has been doing odd jobs as health permits. Her brother-in-law came up for Christmas and liked the area so much he decided to stay. He had been living with the Crews and planned to make a new start, she said. "And boy, did he do it. He'd been up here five days. I said, 'Happy New Year!' "
   The Crews need a house with at least three bedrooms as well as all manner of household items and clothing. Sizes follow:
   * Lisa, size 18 or XL pants, XL shirts, and size 7-1/2 to 8 shoes;
   * Steven, 32-36 pants, large shirt, 13-1/2 to 14 men's shoes;
   * Lexi, age 9; size 12 regular or 14 slim pants; 14 to 16 shirts; and ladies' size 5 shoes;
   * Terri, age 8; size 8 regular or 10 slim pants; 10-12 shirts; children's size 3 to 3-1/2 shoes;
   * Nick, age 10; size 12 slim pants; 14-16 shirts; boys' size 5-1/2 to 6 shoes;
   * David Crews, 32-34 pants, large shirts, and size 10-1/2 to 11 shoes.
   Donations may be taken to Carter County Sheriff's Department or to Brenda's Trading Post in Roan Mountain, located across from Carter County Bank. The Crews may be reached temporarily at 772-9489.
   As Roan Mountain Volunteer Fire Department was clearing from the Crews' fire, Watauga Volunteer Fire Department was responding to a structure fire across from The Barn Shoppe on Highway 400 at the home of Robin and Danny Clark. Robin Clark is the daughter of Helen Slagle, the woman responsible for creating the flag display at the home of Lon and Linda Davis, who lost their son, Donnie, Dec. 5 during the war in Afghanistan.
   Slagle said Wednesday night that her daughter and son-in-law "lost pretty much everything."
   Slagle said her daughter, who is 43, suffers from a degenerative brain disease which makes it difficult for her to walk and perform other functions. The couple is looking for another home, but "where Robin is sick so much, they're trying to get a place as close as we can find it to me because of having to run and check on her so much," Slagle said.
   "They were burned out before in a trailer, so this is her second time having to go through this. It just makes it that much harder," she said.
   The couple plan to return today to the home they rented. "They're going to look and see what they're able to keep. It didn't burn completely down to the ground, but a lot of it is water and smoke damaged," Slagle said.
   The Barn Shoppe is accepting donations on behalf of the Clark family, according to a store employee. Persons wishing to donate also may contact Slagle at 542-6920.
   Slagle said that when Donnie Davis died, she realized what a wonderful place she lived in because of the response from the Watauga community. "I knew it before, with Lon and Linda, and because I've lived here for 40-some years."
   Wednesday, she was reminded again. "People have just called all day wanting to help. Everybody's sort of a close-knit family over here," she said.
   Robin Clark wears a size 14 to 16 in pants, large shirt, and size 5-1/2 to 6 in shoes. Danny Clark wears 36-30 pants, large shirt and size 10 shoes.
   Carter County Sheriff John Henson said donations for either family also may be left at the sheriff's department. "Just bring them by and I'll see that they get where they're supposed to go."
   For more information, contact the sheriff at 542-1846.