Family displaced by fire uplifted by community support
By SHELLY WILKISON
Almost indifferent to the sub-freezing temperatures, they have spent much of the past several days staring into the rubble as if they might suddenly discover something left untouched by the flames that ripped through their home Dec. 6.
Rona McCown found a painting her mother had won in a drawing after completing an art class many years ago.
That was all.
Everything else inside the house at 3603 West RR 1869 was a total loss. Rona and Virgil McCown, and Mrs. McCown’s daughter, Jennifer Israel, left their home Friday evening with the clothes they were wearing, and that’s all they had left when they returned to find their home fully engulfed in flames.
Mrs. McCown and her oldest daughter, Kimberley Israel, had taken Jennifer to a movie to celebrate her birthday. Virgil McCown had taken the dogs with him to his workshop near Leander. He said he wanted to use the time to clean the garage and work on some tractors. The first call with the devastating news came from Emily Cousins.
“When we got to the four-way stop (RR 1869 and Loop 332), it was really scarey. We could see all of the (emergency) lights. The road was closed down, but the firemen brought us down,” said Ms. Israel.
“When we got here, people were here waiting for us. They were so kind,” said Mrs. McCown.
The secretary at Union Hall Baptist Church, Mrs. McCown said Pastor Robert Butts, as well as other friends and neighbors, stayed with them as they watched their house burn.
Battalion Chief Mike Faught of Williamson County Emergency Services District #4 said fire personnel were on the scene from 7:15-11:35 p.m. Friday. Five firefighters from Liberty Hill, along with eight others from Leander and Cedar Park responded to the scene.
“The cause (of the fire) was undetermined and where (it started) would only be a speculation,” Faught told The Independent.
Mrs. McCown said the call to 911 came from a passerby who saw the flames.
“When first unit arrived on scene, they noticed the entire attic/roof structure was fully involved with fire and initiated their fire attack,” said Faught, adding that the department responded with an engine, squad and battalion vehicles.
City of Liberty Hill Utility Superintendent Brian Kirk said fire officials used 60,000 gallons of water to douse the blaze.
The house reignited Saturday morning. Neighbors heard what sounded like gunfire coming from the property as rounds of ammunition exploded in the flames in the early-morning hours.
Ms. Israel said she called the fire department again on Sunday as she observed what appeared to be smoke coming from the debris. When firefighters arrived, they said it was steam rising in the frigid air.
Mrs. McCown said she has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from her church and the community.
Ms. Israel, who has been living with her mother since suffering a brain aneurism in June, said someone left an envelope on her windshield containing $15 in cash.
“The response has been unbelievable,” she said.
A family treasure
Mrs. McCown’s aunt, Irene Duckett, bought the house in 1952, and Mrs. McCown said she believes the house may have been built in the early 1920s. The home may have been one of the original homes in Liberty Hill, she said.
Mrs. Duckett, who lived to be 101 years old, spent her final days in a nursing home. Mrs. Duckett’s daughter sold it to Mrs. McCown in 2008.
Mrs. McCown said she remembers the house as it was when her aunt was living there. It was smaller then, with a kitchen, living room, two bedrooms and bath. She described it as a shotgun house, which was common for the time it was built.
After Rona married Virgil McCown almost three years ago, he remodeled the house to add a bathroom and closet space.
For now, Mrs. McCown said she and her husband don’t plan to rebuild a house on the property. Friends have offered to help bulldoze the rubble and haul it away when the time is right.
The McCowns and Ms. Israel are living in Leander now in the mobile home that Virgil McCown lived in prior to their marriage. After they married, he moved all of his belongings and furnishings into the house on RR 1869.
Mrs. McCown said they salvaged a refrigerator off their back patio, which was not attached to the house and was spared from the fire. They took the refrigerator to the mobile home, and earlier this week, someone donated a dining room table.
“It’s like living in a bachelor pad,” Mrs. McCown laughed.
After the initial shock last weekend, Mrs. McCown has been able to stay positive and has kept a sense of humor.
“I’m the type of person who laughs to keep from crying,” she said, with a smile.
She said her church family and friends have been a great comfort.
As she sat in her husband’s “bachelor pad” one night this week, she said she realized for the first time that she didn’t have any tables. She said she liked the end tables in her home, including some that were family heirlooms and antiques.
“I just started crying when I realized that,” she said.
The McCowns did have insurance on their home and belongings, but appreciate and are accepting donations from the community to help with kitchen supplies and food, bedding, small cooking appliances and other basic necessities. Ms. Israel said they have received plenty of donations of clothing.
“We lost everything,” said Mrs. McCown. “What little bit we could pull out (of the house) was unsalvageable.”
“You don’t think about what’s missing until you need it,” said Virgil McCown, who said he missed his toothbursh and shaving supplies the night of the fire.
“There’s so many little things that you miss, like socks,” said Mrs. McCown, who was wearing a fleece jacket at the house on Tuesday morning when temperatures were below freezing.
“We’re very fortunate,” said Mrs. McCown as she surveyed the destruction. While all of their material things were lost, her family was together and safe.
“That’s what matters,” she said.
Family friend Tosha Grimm-Dowell is coordinating the donation effort on the family’s behalf. She said pots and pans, cooking utensils, kitchen appliances, towels and bedding are needed, as well as some furniture. She said gift cards to stores like HEB or Wal-Mart would be the most convenient way to donate, and all items may be brought to her place of employment, Bluebonnet Pride Insurance.
To find out updated information regarding the family’s needs, call Mrs. Dowell at (512) 630-1001.