Rising from the Ashes, A Story of Resurrection

Story by Jeannie Stone

Just after midnight on Friday, Feb. 8th, 2008, Pam Turner of Russellville jolted out of bed at the sound of glass breaking. Hoping she wasn’t running into a burglar, she ran down the hall and followed an eerie orange glow to the family room located in the center of the house. On that eve, still raw from the catastrophic tornado that let loose on nearby Atkins only three days earlier, Pam stood frozen — torn between her 19 year-old-son Kirk on one end of the house and her 10-year-old twins Kevin and Kendall on the other. A raging fire, ignited by a shorted outlet on the deck, had stolen into the peace of the Turner home and, as the smoke detectors shrilled, Pam screamed.

Joe Turner, Arkansas Master Florist with Cathy’s Flowers and Gifts, was finishing the funeral arrangements for the tornado victims when he received his wife’s call.
“I sped through town, it was about 1 a.m., with my flashers blinking going as fast as I could,” he said. “It was just a nightmare.”

Meanwhile, neighbor Kevin Crafton, who lives with his brother and sister-in-law had seen the flames engulf the roof of the Turner’s house and called his brother and 911.
“Kyle (his brother) came running to make sure we were all out of the house,” Pam said. “He and Kirk went under the deck to get the dogs minutes before a propane tank on the grill blew up.”

Pam had backed up the truck into another neighbor’s driveway to allow room for the fire trucks, and so that her children, in their night clothes, could stay warm. “Kendall looked up at the house and said, ‘Mama, our blankets and our dogs.’”

Each of the children had a special stuffed dog he had been given as an infant, and the dogs had become treasured possessions traveling from crib to bed and accompanying the children on travels.

“Now, I wouldn’t recommend what I did, but I saw the despair in my children’s eyes, and I ran back into the house to retrieve the stuffed dogs,” Pam said.

By the time Joe got home, every local fire truck was at the house. “I know the Pottsville and London fire trucks were even there,” he said. “We go to church with several of those firemen, and when our address was announced they knew it was us.”

Joe told the firefighters about two large trunks in the dining room which were filled with photos.

“Pam is a big scrapbooker,” he said, “and I knew if there was any way we could save those photos it would mean the world to her.” The firefighters threw burn tarps over the trunks and, miraculously, almost all the photos were saved.

During the ordeal, a couple of firefighters were injured by falls. “I found out later than one fireman Ozzie Picton fractured his hand, but he wouldn’t stop working to try and save the house,” Joe said. “These people were awesome. It’s the wonderful thing about living in a small town, and in this town, in particular, everyone cares.”

Bart Noland (another firefighter) fell in the house, and he wouldn’t come out either,” Pam said.

“It was a really hot fire,” Joe said. “All the TVs in the house melted, even those on the other end of the house away from the fire. The refrigerator door just melted away.”

Throughout the house, all the glass shattered and even the clothes kept in closed closets were covered in soot. Fire proved to be a ravenous thief, but the beloved dogs were saved, both of the fur and blood and the stuffed varieties.

“I had these Lego men in a cup, and they were valuable, but they were OK,” Kevin, who collects the toys, said.

“The kids basically lost everything but a few Legos,” Pam said.

“By noon the Junior Auxiliary ladies had come and brought the kids all new clothes and toys,” Joe said. “They were a godsend.”

“By that night they had more clothes than they ever had,” Pam added, “and the school brought Legos.”

Saturday morning family members drove to the Little Rock airport to pick up 91 cases of flowers shipped for the coming Valentine’s week. The timing of the catastrophe seemed to be slightly more than a little prophetic.

“The week of Valentine’s Day is just a madhouse for florists anyway,” Joe said. Little did he know that scores of friends from the community, even his son’s future in- laws, descended upon the flower shop and processed all the Valentine’s orders during the slow hours following the fire when the Turners were still in a state of shock.

“I called the shop Saturday afternoon to tell them not to worry about the flowers and

Madeleine (Nichols) kept telling me during my babbling that they’d processed the order. Finally, my mouth wound down, and I heard her say, ‘We’re done.’ She must have said it three times before I heard her.”

Having gone through the magnitude of that chore for many years, Joe knew the work it had taken. “I just started bawling,” he said. “It hit me pretty hard.” In fact, on that same day, Kirk was nowhere to be found and Joe asked Pam where he was.

“She told me he was taking his ACT test, and I felt so bad that through all of that, he had to take that test. He didn’t even have a driver’s license to show them at the site, but they let him take the test anyway.”

Pam, an R.N. in the nursery at Saint Mary’s, was equally overcome with the generosity of her co-workers and friends.

“The doctors and everyone brought clothes, money and restaurant gift cards,” she said. “We had so much support. We are so thankful.”

“People came into the flower shop nonstop with donations,” Joe said. “I was breaking down every time that bell rang on the door. We were humbled by this community.”

Perhaps in small towns, children are raised to be more aware of the plights of their friends. Watching his home burn, teenager Kirk called his friend Jonathan Terry.

“He was here in 15 minutes, and he brought us hot chocolate,” Kirk said.

Friends helped Kirk retrieve the dogs stuck in the back yard. Plug, the family Dalmatian, was completely deaf, and the shingles were melting through the cracks in the deck and dripping hot tar on him. In his anxiety he tried to hide, burrowing himself as far under the deck as he could. Kirk doesn’t know how he managed to do it, but he lifted the huge doghouse out of the way in order to retrieve Plug.

“Oh, it was God, no doubt about it,” Joe said. There were other signs of divine mercy. At some point during the mayhem Krystle (Manning), their daughter who’d just married a few months earlier, was sifting through the charred remains in the yard and realized her only wedding album had been on the dining room table.

“Oh, she was upset, of course,” Joe said, “and that was a very trying day. A little later, my phone had fallen into the toilet, and on my way out of the house one of the firemen handed the wedding album to me and asked me if I’d been looking for it. Somehow,” he added, “it had been placed in a trunk in one of the bedrooms, and nobody knows how it got there.”

“And we still don’t know what glass broke that cause Pam to wake,” he said. “It wasn’t until a few moments later that the sirens went off and all the glass shattered in the house.”

The only piece of furniture to withstand the fire was an heirloom child sized roll-top desk Joe treasured. It was all in pieces, and he thought it was lost, but Pam had it restored to its original state. She and the boys presented it to Joe for Christmas.

“I was so touched,” he said. Restoring the surviving photos kept Pam and her mother busy for months .

“They must have washed and dried thousands of pictures,” Joe said. “They hung them to dry on a laundry line.”

To this day Pam marvels about the photos. “Do you know you can wash photos in water to clean soot off?” she asked. “It was just amazing. Not surprisingly, this mother has put together a telling scrapbook of the damage cause by the fire, the restoration, and the involvement of the community. Call it a ‘gratitude journal.’

Flipping through the pages stokes the intense memories particularly for the children.

“I think I was the boy who remembered the most out of this because I talk about it more than anyone else,” Kevin said. “My brother cried when he told his class about the fire. I don’t know why I didn’t cry,” he said, his eyes misting now.

Asked what he missed most, he doesn’t hesitate a second. “I miss all my stuffed animals. For Valentine’s Day my dad got me a big one this year.” The significance of the stuffed dogs extends also to the older boys, Kirk and even newlywed Kyle, whose dog was safe at his then- fiance’s home.

“My Legos,” twin brother Kendall said. “I had over a million.”

Big brother Kirk weighed in, “My CD player because I used to go to sleep listening to music, and it was too quiet at my grandparents’ house. The Turners lived at Pam’s parents’ home for the year it took to rebuild their house.

Sentimental Pam replied, “My cookbooks.” And Joe misses his piano and organ.“Ididn’t have room to replace them in the layout of the new house,” he said. “Besides, I have grandkids now, and I’m very protective of my toys. Maybe now is not the right time.”

“We bawled and squalled after the fire,” Joe said, “but this community has been good to us.” Joe had nothing but kind words for Kenny Henderson, the builder who rebuilt the home, and Cassandra Burton, their Allstate representative from Marc Campbell Insurance.

“I called Cassandra, and she had the adjuster at our house by noon the same day. She wrote out a check on the spot. Now, not many people have stories like that,” he said.

Joe took the adjuster up on her offer to be available as unforeseen losses came to light. “Kyle got married in May,” Joe said, “and we assessed the loss in his room as $10,000 because he’d just purchased a new bedroom suite for his new home and lost his computer. The adjuster didn’t even bat an eye. We had that check within three days. There was never a fuss about anything.”

He continued, “The icing on the cake was the churches all around.” The Turners, member of Bethel Assembly of God Church, were touched by the compassion of their Christian brothers and sisters. The pinnacle of that love culminated with a community shower orchestrated by Peggy Talkington at the Historic Missouri-Pacific depot.

“They encouraged us to register at the various stores, and Pam and I felt very awkward about doing that because we had to go through our story at every location. We were a bit weary,” he said, “but we were assured people really wanted to help us.”

“When we walked into that depot, with all those lovely gifts, we felt all that love hit us in the face.”

When Pam stood in the middle of her home and screamed, her children awoke. The Turners are convinced that God and his angels heard as well and delivered them all to safety.

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