Hampton woman loses everything in trailer fire

By Julie Fann
Star Staff

At 1:30 a.m. Monday morning, Joyce James, 112 Morton Road, Hampton, wasn't sleeping. She was watching flames engulf and destroy the mobile home she moved into 33 years ago, when her baby was just four months old.
   "You can't stick around too much when a trailer's burning. I just grabbed my purse, which had my wedding band in it, a pair of pants, a pair of socks, and a pair of shoes, and ran out the door. I'm still in complete shock," James said Monday afternoon.
   Losing mobile homes to fire is nothing new in Carter County, but the winter months are especially dangerous. James, a widow who lives alone, said she had been asleep only an hour when the smoke alarm woke her.
   "The place was filled with smoke. I had a wood stove, and, at times when the wind blows, the smoke will come back in, and that's what I thought had happened, and then I saw it (the rear porch) burning," she said.
   James contacted the Hampton/Valley Forge Fire Department, who responded to her page at 2:50 a.m. Monday. Firefighters worked for four hours to put out the fire, but weren't able to save any of it.
   "It gutted the whole house. From one end to the other it was gutted. It was so cold this morning too, and all our gear was freezing up on us. Everything that got wet froze. Hoses, the street, everything," Hampton VFD fire chief, Johnny Isaacs, said.
   Isaacs said the trailer may have caught fire due to flames from the wood stove that burned a hole in the chimney and then destroyed it, but he wasn't sure. James also had an oil furnace working at the time the fire started.
   The HVFD had responded to a similar fire just 24 hours prior on Dogtown Road.
   Isaacs advised residents can reduce the risk of their mobile home catching fire in winter by taking proper care of fireplaces and chimneys year-round.
   "Residents need to have their chimneys cleaned out at least once a year, preferably every six months. Chimneys get clogged, then catch fire. It's also very important to put fires out, or at least make sure they're under control, before going to bed," Isaacs said.
   Ten HVFD firefighters and four Stoney Creek VFD firemen worked to put out the fire using four tanks of water. "We used every bit of them, which must have been about 10,000 or 11,000 gallons of water," said Isaacs.
   James, 63, spent all day Tuesday with her pastor and family members sifting through ash to reclaim pieces of the life she had built for herself.
   "My husband just passed away coming up on three years, and I had a whole wall in his honor, with our pictures, a letter from President Clinton, and a flag because he was a veteran. But it was in the livingroom, and it really burned everything in there," James said.
   James was able to salvage a few quilts and other pictures from another room. She was also able to recover some jewelry she had saved in a drawer inside a box.
   James said a neighbor brought her a sandwich during the afternoon, but she could only eat half of it. "I have a nervous stomach, and it just made me sick."
   James has no home-owners insurance. Last night, she planned to stay with her son and, later on, move into another trailer she owns on a different piece of property. "I just need to get the water reconnected," she said.
   Wayne Carter, pastor of Braemar Baptist Church, said his congregation will help James once they assess what she needs in terms of clothing and other items.
   "I think it would be great if the community would respond to this, especially at the holidays, and in this cold weather. It would be a great sign of Christian love," he said.