A Decatur family is homeless and mourning the loss of three pets after a house fire Tuesday night.
Jennifer Albritton ran through the smoke-filled home on Chenoweth Street desperately calling for her animals. She managed to save two before the heat and smoke stopped her frantic search.
Then all she could do was wait. Huddled with her family, they were safe but heartbroken as they watched firefighters carry two of their dogs and a cat, lifeless, from the home.
Just before 9 p.m. smoke was reported billowing from the front door of the brick, single-story structure. Decatur Fire Chief Mike Richardson said the fire started in the kitchen, which burned out. The rest of the home sustained heavy smoke, heat and water damage.
Deputy Fire Chief Deroy Bennett said Friday the home is uninhabitable, and the family was able to recover only a few personal items.
“We were hoping to get back on our feet really soon, but it just doesn’t seem to be in the cards for us right now,” said Jennifer, who Thursday night was still searching for a new place to call home.
They had gone to get ice cream when the fire started after enjoying a quiet night at home.
Jennifer and her husband, Marshal, both had the night off, and he was playing Wii with their boys, Jacob, 15, and Brady, 11.
“I had cooked barbecue ribs, but the boys were hungry again and asked my husband to make them burritos,” said Jennifer. Marshal put an oil-filled pan on the stove to heat and returned to the Wii game.
Meanwhile, Jennifer was crocheting in the bedroom and decided ice cream sounded good, suggesting the family go to Braum’s.
She didn’t know her husband was warming oil, and Marshal didn’t remember doing so. Jennifer said he has a brain tumor and suffers short-term memory loss.
The couple, both boys and Jennifer’s mother, Mary Hunter, who lives with them, piled into the car and left.
“I was getting the ice cream out of the car when my husband went to the front door,” said Jennifer. “All I heard was, ‘The house is on fire!’
“I asked the neighbors to call 911 and ran into the house.” She was looking for their pets.
Jennifer said she found their Saint Bernard, Mufasa, at the back door, and she let him into the neighbor’s backyard. Then she began calling for the others.
“The smoke was so thick I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “I kept running out the back door to catch my breath and then go back in.”
Jacob, her oldest son, was stationed at the back door to help guide any animal out, and Jennifer’s mother was at the front calling the pets’ names.
The only other pet they were able to find and rescue at that time was Sassy, a Siamese cat. There were still four animals unaccounted for in the house.
“I was on my hands and knees, banging on the floor, calling (their names),” Jennifer said.
But the creatures still inside had either already perished or were hiding.
Jennifer said about 45 minutes after firefighters arrived, they emerged from the house carrying the family’s Rottweiler, Ace.
“He was gone. They went to work on him, but we knew he was gone,” she said.
Then they carried out Duchess – a Chihuahua – curled up in a bathrobe, and Jillian, her mother’s cat, both of whom had died.
“About 15 minutes later, they brought out Hopper, my cat, and he was alive!” said Jennifer.
Although there was still one cat missing, the family left about 1 a.m. and checked into a local hotel about 3 with the help of the American Red Cross.
“But I couldn’t sleep,” said Jennifer. “I was worried about that cat. So Marshal and I went back over there. We got to the house about 3:30, and almost immediately, we found the white kitty, Rascal.
“I figured she’d be dead, but as soon as she saw me, she jumped into my arms.”
Decatur and Bridgeport fire departments responded to the fire, as well as the Decatur Police Department and Wise County Rescue 1.
Chief Richardson said one firefighter was injured when he fell going around the house to find a point of entry.
“Even though he was hurt, he grabbed a hose and went in anyway,” he said.
Richardson later took the firefighter to Wise Regional Health System in Decatur where he was treated for bruised ribs and released.
The house is owned by Cecil and Rita Lemmond, who are “the best landlords,” according to Jennifer. “He’s been extraordinary,” she said. “He’s gone out of his way to help us.”
HOW TO HELP
You can aid the Albritton family by donating money, clothes or gift cards. Donations can be made to an account in the Albrittons’ name at First State Bank in Bridgeport and Chico, and clothing needs are as follows:
- Jacob – size 29 jeans, large shirts
- Brady – size 12 pants/shorts, medium shirts
- Jennifer – size 3 pants/shorts, medium shirts
- Marshal – 38×30 pants, XL or XXL shirts
- Mary – size 7 pants, medium shirts
Clothing may be dropped off at the Days Inn in Decatur where the family is staying.
Contact the Albrittons at 940-255-2846.