While the cause of a May 30 fire that all but destroyed a Pembroke apartment building is still under investigation, those who lived there are picking up the pieces and moving on.
“Life doesn’t stop just because you lose everything in a fire,” said Joyce Padgett, whose family was among those left homeless by the fire at the Old Mill Apartments off Strickland Street.
In all, six families were displaced. That includes 11 children ranging in age from 1 day old to teenagers, Bryan County Family Connections Director Wendy Sims said.
Sims’ agency became a ground zero of sorts for donations, as churches, individuals and businesses on both ends of Bryan County responded to the plight of the families.
“We had a huge community response, from donated money to clothes and household items” Sims said Wednesday, noting that more than $6,000 was raised and given to families to help them rebuild their lives. “That’s what happens in this community. People here are just so generous,” Sims said.
Among those displaced were Bryan and Candace Richardson, and their daughters Savanna, 11, Braylin, 7, and Addaleigh, 6. And their cat, Marlin, almost 2.
That’s a story in itself.
“I was awake in the living room and smelled plastic burning,” Candace Richardson said, remembering the fire. “I thought it was something in the dryer, opened up dryer door, heard my neighbor screaming and realized what was going on.”
Richardson said she and her husband gathered their daughters and shoved them out the door, then remembered Marlin. Her husband went back to look, but the smoke was too thick.
“We left the door open and hope and prayed he would run out,” she said.
Marlin didn’t run out. But, Pembroke firefighters Dalton Cook and David Cook went inside and found the cat hiding under fallen sheetrock.
They brought it out alive.
The Richardsons, like the Padgetts and other families, say they’re grateful for the community support as they work to get life back to normal.
“We’re OK,” she said, adding they were able to save a number of important documents and family heirlooms, and were working to get other things back.
“The biggest struggle right off was trying to get our daughters to where they could sleep,” she said. “They’ve been having nightmares from this.”
Like the Richardsons, Padgett, who had been living in the apartment for more than two years, said Friday she’s grateful for everything the community has done for her family in the aftermath of the fire.
“It’s been amazing,” she said. “We are thankful for everything that everyone has done, and all the help we’ve received.”
Both the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the state Fire Marshal’s Office said the fire cause was undetermined, but a private investigator is now involved in the investigation and has fenced off the building.