Fire destroys Lawrence home days before Christmas

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By Rachel Madison

Endless positivity and a bright outlook on the future are the only things John and Nickey Lawrence have been focusing on over the last few weeks since they lost their home on Live Oak Road in a fire that burned it to the ground.

On the morning of Dec. 14, around 7:15 a.m., Nickey awoke to what she thought was her cat, Goober, getting into some mischief in her master bathroom—something he had a habit of doing.

“It woke me up and I thought it was Goober under the bathroom sink,” she said. “But then I kept hearing something that wouldn’t go away. Above our master bedroom door there was a glass window and I saw outside to the front that it was red, and then I realized it was smoky. I woke John up, and then tried to put some clothes on and it kept getting more and more smoky.”

After John awoke, he grabbed a five-gallon bucket to pour water in the hallway so they could get out of the house. He then went around to the back of their home, where they have a swimming pool, and filled the bucket with water to bring around to the front porch, where the fire had started.

“You can’t throw water up, and that’s when I knew we needed to call 9-1-1,” John said.

Nickey called 9-1-1 and then ran back into the house to try to save their pets, which included two cats, Goober and Prissy, and two blue and gold macaws.

“I found Prissy under our bed, and I got her out,” Nickey said. “I was afraid I hurt her, because I just threw her out the back door. I went back in to get Goober and I couldn’t find him. There was too much smoke and I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t have enough sense to open the door of the [macaws’] cage to let them out, and we lost them all.”

Prissy was eventually found hiding under the Lawrence’s back deck and stayed with a neighbor until things settled down. Nickey said she will forever be grateful to Goober for saving their lives.

“I think angels were watching out for us, and I know that Goober helped save us,” she said. “He saved our lives.”

Once the front porch was engulfed, it didn’t take long for the Lawrence’s home to burn.

“It took the firefighters a while to get here and once they did and started spraying on it, they couldn’t do much,” Nickey said. “There was so much wind. They did what they could do. We had firefighters from Leander, Liberty Hill and Travis County. The wind was the worst part, and once it hit, it was a done deal.”

John purchased the 6.5 acres the home sat on in 1969 with his G.I. Bill, and then over the years, built the home himself. He finished it in the early 1970s, and then added a few additions, like a swimming pool in 1977. The single-story home had three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

“It was basically a log cabin,” John said. “It had pure red cedar and pine beams. It had a tin roof over the composition, so when the fire started it was just keeping the heat in. It was like a pot of boiling water with a lid on it. It’s just about impossible to save a wood structure out in the country. We were just happy they kept it contained.”

Several other buildings on the property, like a storage building and a garage, were not damaged by the fire, but the pool’s equipment and several oak trees surrounding the home were also destroyed.

“A lot of the oaks are going to have to be cut down, which I regret,” John said. “I hate to have to remove any of those.”

The cause of the fire was ruled undetermined by the fire marshal, and insurance adjusters are still investigating the damage to see if they can determine a cause. Because the investigation is still underway, the Lawrences have been unable to clean up any of the damage. The home was a total loss, but the Lawrences have been able to salvage a few things, such as a photo album with pictures of their son’s childhood birthday celebrations, a fire-proof safe with some money inside and Nickey’s grandmother’s ring, which was a little sooty but completely intact.

Stonework built by John around the home as well as the fireplace and chimney are still partially intact, but everything else was completely destroyed.

Because the Lawrences had to leave their home immediately, they only escaped with the clothes on their backs and Nickey’s cell phone.

“My hearing aids, glasses, teeth and everything burned up in the fire,” John said. “We got out of there with a phone and that’s it. I didn’t have my shoes or a shirt—nothing.”

In the last few weeks since the fire, the Lawrences have seen an outpouring of support from the Liberty Hill community, Nickey said.

“Our neighbors are so special,” she said. “People got us shoes, got us clothes. They did everything they could to help us get back on our feet. Everybody brought us shampoo and hygiene products. Everybody in the neighborhood who knows us stopped and cried with us and hugged us, and it’s been incredible. And people who live in our neighborhood that we didn’t even know brought us stuff. We’ve got the greatest neighbors.”

Nickey’s family from Llano and Burnet have also rallied around the couple, taking off work to help when needed. Nickey’s niece, Kelsey Ellis, started a GoFundMe campaign after the fire to raise money for the Lawrences to rebuild. So far, $3,140 has been raised by 21 people in 17 days. The goal for the campaign is $50,000.

The Lawrences were also able to purchase a small trailer to keep on their property to live in until they can build a new home.

“John wanted to stay out here, and insurance put us up in a hotel, but we had a little money so we bought this trailer so we could stay out here,” Nickey said. “[After the insurance company finishes investigating,] we have a good friend who has a demo company who is ready to come in and get everything out of here. Then we’ll have somebody come build us a small house.”

The Lawrences plan to stay on their property the rest of their lives because of the love they have for the land. They also felt they needed to be there to care for their animals, including a horse, a herd of sheep and several barn cats.

“It’s very humbling when you lose everything and you don’t have anything,” Nickey said. “We had no driver’s licenses, insurance cards or social security cards. When you say your house burned down people don’t really understand. It’s been incredibly hard.”

Even though their circumstances have been difficult, the Lawrences have maintained a positive outlook on the future. They enjoyed Christmas in Llano at Nickey’s mother’s home and focused on being together with their family.

“It was a really nice Christmas just being together,” Nickey said. “If you look back and you feel sorry for yourself you can’t go forward. We can’t live in the past. We’re lucky we got out alive. If it had happened earlier, I may not have woken up in time. Now all we can do is go forward and start over.”

To donate to the Lawrences, visit www.gofundme.com/manage/restore-lawrence-funny-farm-total-loss.

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