After a fire destroyed their home, a family of six now lives out of a pair of motel rooms, meeting with insurance adjusters and fire investigators and trying to replace a lifetime of belongings.
Jerry and Rhoda Burton, their daughter Whitney Burton and Whitney’s three small children lost nearly everything they owned last week when a blaze destroyed their New Whiteland home.
But the family has gotten donations of clothing and cash to buy food and toiletries from neighbors, co-workers and even strangers.
“It’s great the way people have reached out to us,” Whitney Burton said. “It says a lot about this community.”
The Burtons had lived in the one-story, three-bedroom home in the 100 block of Windemere Road for nearly 30 years. Neither the couple nor Whitney and three children were home Aug. 28 when fire gutted the house. Nobody was injured, but the Burtons lost all their clothes, appliances and furniture. Only a handful of items from the house’s garage area were salvageable, and Jerry Burton suspects the home will have to be rebuilt completely.
The New Whiteland Fire Department is investigating the cause of the fire.
The family is concerned about how they will replace the house and everything in it.
“It’s hard for me to sleep,” Rhoda Burton said. “I keep thinking of the things we lost and we’ll never get back. We’ve been married 37 years, and basically everything we’ve had in those 37 years is gone now.”
The fire destroyed many photographs of Jerry and Rhoda’s parents and other deceased family members, Jerry Burton said.
Whitney Burton is working to help her daughters, ages 7, 6 and 3, deal with their new situation — from waking up in a strange place to getting dressed for school in donated clothes. The girls have helped make the ordeal more bearable for her, she said.
“It was shocking and crazy, but they’ve reacted amazingly and adjusted well,” Whitney Burton said. “I was worried at how they would react when they saw the house and realized they have lost everything they have — all their toys and stuff — but they’ve adjusted really well. They also like the motel for now because it has a pool.”
The family is thankful for support from the community. People the family doesn’t know have donated clothing, often dropping it off at the home of another daughter, who lives across the street from the Burtons, Jerry Burton said.
“Strangers will drive by and ask what size clothes we wear then come back with a sack of clothes. Unbelievable,” he said.
Other help included a raffle by the Double Y Saddle Club in Edinburgh, a horse club the Burtons are members of. Whitney Burton’s co-workers at Homeview Health & Rehabilitation Center gave her more than $500 collected less than two hours after the fire.
Teachers and staff at Sawmill Woods and Break O’ Day Elementary schools, where Whitney Burton’s two oldest daughters attend, gave the girls stuffed animals and gift cards. Other people have donated, food, clothing, toiletries, cash and gift cards.
“I’ve been trying to take down the names of everyone who is helping us so we can thank them, but I know we’ll forget someone,” Rhoda Burton said.
The family will be in the motel for three weeks while their insurance company finds a temporary rental place for them to live.
“I firmly believe life will punch you in the face, but you have to get back up,” Jerry Burton said.
The long-term plan is to rebuild the home as soon as they can, he said. In the meantime, they have to wait.
“We need everything, but we don’t have any place to put it yet,” he said.
The sense of community is something that means a lot to the Burtons. Their New Whiteland home is where the children grew up and where neighbors know each other, he said.
“People will get together and have a pitch-in. We’ll gather together and watch (a NASCAR race) on TV, and it’s just special like that,” he said.
“Why would I want to leave that?”