The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

January 8, 2014

Fire displaces family amid deep freeze

By Jean Cole
jean@athensnews-courier.com

CLEMENTS — Jessica White knew her Tuesday morning wasn’t going well.

The power was out at her mobile home off Zehner Road,  west of Athens.

The water wouldn’t run.

And, the vehicle of her friend’s boyfriend would not start.

Jessica figured all of it was the fault of the frigid temperatures chapping the Tennessee Valley since Sunday.

The 23-year-old mother — who is five months pregnant — said she remembered saying aloud,  “What else could go wrong?”

She was about to find out.

Just before 10 a.m., Jessica and her 4-year-old daughter, Elektra; Kelsey Coggins, a friend; and 7-year-old Skyler Claybaugh, the daughter of visiting friend Melvin Claybaugh, left the house to get breakfast. Meanwhile, Melvin and his 6-year-old son, James, were hunkered down in bed to fight the lack of heat.

As Jessica left the mobile home park, she realized she had forgotten her wallet. She immediately returned and found a fire beginning in the floor of the kitchen. Attempts to extinguish it failed, and everyone had to evacuate.

Because the fire started in the floor, Jessica believed it must have been sparked when the electricity was restored to the heating and air-conditioning unit, which enters through the floor.

Jessica, Melvin and Kelsey managed to retrieve only a few items before smoke drove them out of the home. Melvin lost his telephone. Kelsey lost all of the blue jeans she had loaded in Jessica’s washer, and James lost his socks and shoes, so a Clements firefighter directed all of the children to hop into the cab of the fire truck to keep warm.

Elektra, however, would have no part of it. She stayed perched atop a car, watching the firefighters while her mother tried to soothe her tears.

Despite their efforts amid 12-degree weather, firefighters from Clements and Owens could not save the single-wide, metal home.

An ambulance was dispatched to the scene to take Jessica to Athens-Limestone Hospital for possible smoke inhalation, but she declined and said she would go later.

The Red Cross also was called to help the family.

If you would like to assist, call Jessica at 256-998-3245.