Few people have heard our full story about what happened the day of our house fire and the events that followed. While the ongoing investigation was our primary reason for not readily sharing it sooner, another reason is that I am just a bit embarrassed about this accident that involved myself with some help from Becki (my wife), Hannah (our 5 year old daughter) and Alex (our 11 year old son). It was a family affair. What follows is an explanation of the events leading up to the afternoon of the fire and a precise account of the evening of the fire. The exact times mentioned below are from cell phones and bank transaction records.
My wife had too many clothes. Our closet was over-flowing, so I turned the sauna in the bathroom off the hall into a closet for her winter clothes. She told me at the time she did not think it was a good idea but I felt no other option but to make another closet. I was originally perceptive enough to turn off the breaker to the sauna at that time. However, when Becki was preparing to weigh-in and to take her physical fitness test for the Army Reserve around April 2010, she pulled out the clothes, turned the breaker, and tried to sweat off some pounds. When she finished, she turned off the sauna, and after it cooled, put the clothes back in. But she forgot to turn the breaker back off.
On Sunday July 18th we received heartbreaking news from my oldest daughter, Tayler who lives in Portland, TN. Her stepfather, Kenny Kepley, had just committed suicide. We had gone to Gallatin on Monday night the 19th to take Tayler and her mother a basket of snack foods for themselves and family/friends who would be visiting them during this frantic time.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010 was a very hectic day. Becki was at work at Murfreesboro Medical Clinic. Being a teacher, I am off during the summer and it was my payday so I was running errands all day with the kids. We were in Murfreesboro and ate lunch with Becki at Burger King. While they were eating, I had tires put on the van at B&L. After that we dropped her back off at MMC.
At home, I finished up errands and got the kids ready to go to the funeral visitation for Tayler’s stepdad. Hannah was getting ready (and playing) in the bathroom where the sauna is located. At about 5:00 I told the kids to get in the van to leave. The visitation was in Portland, TN, and we were extremely rushed since it ended at 8:00. The funeral was scheduled for the next day.
I made a routine sweep of the house checking to see that kids were out; doors were shut; turn lights out; and make sure there was nothing I forgot to get. After going through the back bedrooms, I went in the bathroom off the hall and immediately smelled smoke. I looked around, saw that the sauna light was on, and opened the sauna to find smoke and smoldering clothing. I discovered that there had been too many clothes on the rack, it had broken, and some clothes had fallen on the sauna heater and were smoking. I did not see any flames, and I turned off the switch to the sauna.
I called for Alex to show him how dangerous the sauna could be and to help make sure there was nothing still burning. We went through all the clothes, shook each one and laid them on the floor in the hall and in the bathroom. We thought we were pretty thorough, looked at each piece of clothing, ensuring that there was nothing still burning or smoldering.
Because we were very late, I decided to leave the clothes where they were in the floor and clean up the mess when we got home. I went out ensuring that the side door off the porch was closed. Alex went out the side door by his bedroom and closed it. As we were pulling out of the driveway I saw that the front door was open. I thought about going back to close it, but because we were so late, I decided to leave it. The time was 5:34 when I sent a text to Becki telling her that we were leaving. We traveled down Covehill Rd, Burt Bergen Rd, HWY 64 and HWY 70S.
Becki worked until 5:03 pm and then went to Walmart.
Our neighbor at the time came home at about 5:45 from work and left directly at about 5:50 for a church function. He has stated that he noticed that we were not there and that there was no sign of smoke or fire at that time.
When I arrived on the east side of Murfreesboro I called Becki at 6:08 then traveled through town to the Walmart Supercenter at 2000 Old Fort Pkwy. Becki and I met at Walmart at 6:10. I made an ATM transaction at that Walmart at 6:37 and got dinner for the family while Becki looked for dress pants for Micah, our youngest son. It is approximately 30 miles from 2117 Hollow Springs Rd to 2000 Old Fort Pkwy.
At 7:09 we left the truck in the Walmart parking lot and together proceeded on to I24, then to I840, and to Hwy 109. It is approximately 26 miles from 2000 Old Fort Pkwy to Hwy 109, and over 50 miles away from the house.
The sheriff department report states that a passerby says smoke was coming out from the door of the house at approximately 7:10 and called 911. The fire fighters arrived at 7:35. A member of the Lions Club, that we belong to, heard the 911 call and contacted a close friend. He promptly called me.
During our trip to Portland, I told Becki about my rushed, lousy day, culminating in the sauna situation. Right after I had finished, our friend called at 7:38 and said, “Perry, your house is on fire.” I told him thanks, hung up, threw the phone on the floorboard, and shouted, “now the house is burning down!” We turned around on Hwy 109, approximately 1 mile south of Interstate 40.
First, I called Tayler and told her we would not be able to make it to the visitation. Then, I called a friend who lived nearest, but he was not home. Finally, I called another friend who was able to go to the house and tell me the situation. All the way back to Woodbury our children were upset and scared for the cats in the house and puppies on the back deck.
At 8:20 we dropped our children off at a friend’s home who leaves near us, and we were at the fire scene at approximately 8:30. The firemen had completed putting out the fire and were packing up their equipment and preparing their reports. They brought us through the house and showed us the damage. The firemen let us know that our two kitties did not make it, and that they had found them in the living room.
Later, we got our children from our friend’s home, and went to Becki’s mother’s, home in Lavergne. Becki and the children stayed at her house, while I went back to Woodbury and stayed at Becki’s brother’s house that was close by our home. The next day, I worked at our house and then we went to the funeral service.
More will come later on the events that followed and how God has provided for us over the past months – Jehovah – jireh! The Lord will provide!