Family of seven struggling to overcome loss

By Wendy Byerly Wood

April 13, 2014

WESTFIELD — Asking for help isn’t something that Jessica Davis is comfortable with, or something she enjoys doing, but she said she has to look out for her family after a raging fire destroyed the family of seven’s home early Sunday morning.

“We don’t understand how some things made it and some things didn’t,” Davis said Wednesday afternoon as she tried to scavenge through the charred remains of the home she was renting on Boris Lane in Westfield. She found a handful of pictures in a box, but nearly everything in the home was a loss.

“I was at work,” she said, reflecting on the happenings Sunday. “I left at 5:30 (a.m.), and everyone was asleep.”

Davis is a registered nurse in the surgical ICU unit at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem. She said she had a busy morning with a patient who was turning for the worst, so she wasn’t able to be near her personal phone.

“By 8:30 a.m., my phone was going crazy. I finally got a break, and I called back and my mom said, ‘The kids are OK,’” Davis said. “I asked what happened, and she said the house burned down.”

She said she asked her mom if they caught the kitchen on fire, and “she said, ‘No, the house burned to the ground.’ I hit the floor.”

After being helped up and to the patient waiting area, Davis found a coworker who could drive her home, because she didn’t think she was in any shape to drive.

“My husband woke up and the couch was on fire,” she said. “He got water but it wouldn’t put it out, so he started getting the kids.”

The couple, who have been together since they were 14, have five children — Austin, 13; Chloe, 5; Reagan, 4; and 2-year-old twins, Aliyah, a girl, and Jesse, a boy.

“He had to go through the fire to get the babies out, and there was so much black smoke, he had to crawl out with them,” Davis said.

She said he got to the back door, and where the fire and air had caused a draft in the house, her husband, Frank, had trouble getting the back door open. “He thought he was going to have to pass them through the window.”

But the family escaped unharmed, to the shelter of their neighbors’ home. The kids had nothing but their diapers and underwear on them, and Frank had spotted clothes in the dirty laundry that he grabbed on the way out of the house.

Everything else was destroyed as the blaze ripped through the home.

Davis said firefighters were uncertain what caused the couch to catch on fire. “There was a treadmill sitting behind it, and they don’t know if the older girls plugged it up and it caused a spark or what. The girls were the only ones up, and they said the couch just burst into flames and they started screaming,” she said.

Frank wasn’t sure what woke him up, because he said he didn’t hear them screaming and the smoke detectors apparently weren’t working properly and didn’t go off, Davis said.

“Tax time came, and I bought a brand new carpet shampooer and spent a whole day cleaning the carpets. Now look at it,” said Davis as she gestured to the black remains of the home.

“We were supposed to leave for the beach Easter Sunday, and I was working overtime just to be able to go. My husband stays home with the kids because we can’t afford daycare, and I work,” she said. Davis said the family moved to North Carolina from Virginia in July 2013 when she got the higher paying job at Baptist. “We had lived in a crummy tiny single-wide in Virginia, and the babies were still sleeping in our room. Here they had room to run and play, and it’s close to my mother, to Mount Airy and to Pilot Mountain. It was perfect.”

The American Red Cross put the family up at the Econo Lodge in Pilot Mountain for two nights, and since then, the family has remained there paying for the suite rooms out of their own money. Davis said her first concern is to find a house for the family that they can all fit in, because most of what she is finding are two bedroom homes, which aren’t large enough for them.

“I’m trying my best not to move them again (to new schools),” Davis said of her two oldest.

Davis said her best friend, Brian Patterson of Mount Airy, has been a big help as well.

As for clothes, she said coworkers donated a good deal of clothes for the twins and the 4-year-old, but the family still needs clothing for Austin and Chloe. She said size 38 pants and shorts and 2X shirts for Austin and 8/10 girls sizes are needed for Chloe.

A handful of outside toys were salvaged, but other items, like the kids’ Christmas presents and a couple of items bought with tax money, are gone. “That just breaks your heart even more,” Davis said.

“My husband lost all his hunting stuff,” she said as Austin appeared from the home carrying a burned pair of antlers. “All my nursing stuff from graduation — my nursing lamp, nursing pin and hat — are gone.”

The family had not purchased renter’s insurance to cover their belongings.

“We’ve got to come up with first month rent, a deposit, money to turn the power on, furnishings for a house, sheets, linens, you forget how much you need,” said Davis.

“If I just could find somewhere to live,” she said visibly emotional. “I hate to ask for anything, but I don’t have a choice.”

Those wishing to assist the Davis family can do so by calling Jessica’s cell phone at 336-415-9032, or dropping items off at her mother’s home, 639 Childress Road, Mount Airy, in the Westfield community.

Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-835-1513 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.