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Family experiences 2 fires, 1 massive outpouring of love

Family experiences 2 fires, 1 massive outpouring of love

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I have new neighbors, Nancy and Bob LeGore and their son Brian. They’re such nice people. I couldn’t have been more pleased to have them move next door. What no one is pleased about, especially the LeGores, is the reason they had to move from the Hickory neighborhood they loved and friends they cherished: The LeGores’ house burned — twice.

I knew Nancy’s parents well. The late Crawford and Willa Deane Bost were beloved Catawba County residents — Crawford, a well-known antiques and fine furniture dealer, and Willa Deane, a retired elementary school teacher and collector of vintage china and crystal. Naturally, Nancy had all manner of valuable furnishings before the fires destroyed every last piece.

Bob, a retired accountant and former franchise owner, is a Vietnam veteran. “He was on the battlefront in the jungles of Vietnam for a year,” said Nancy. He had much memorabilia: medals, photographs, and letters from his mom. Nancy said Bob would get his photo albums out and share some of his war experiences with his sons, Brian and Rob, now an Orlando, Florida, resident. All Bob’s keepsakes are gone.

I see news stories about fires destroying people’s homes, but I never find out what their lives are like after the fires. I asked Nancy if she’d mind sharing her story.

“It changes your whole life,” she said with sadness. “Your outlook on things. I’ve always liked material things. Bob and I both were collectors of things, and now, material things do not matter.”

“We got our house decluttered in 24 hours,” Nancy continued in an effort to lighten the moment, “so now our sons don’t have to worry about it. My mother told me to always find something to be grateful for, and, wow, have I used that.”

No one was hurt, an outcome for which the LeGores are most grateful, but so much was lost — from the things that evoked the sweetest memories to the simplest everyday items that don’t seem so grand until they go up in smoke. Nancy was left with the pajamas she was wearing and her cellphone, which happened to be close at hand when the family rushed from their burning house the morning of Dec. 15, 2020. “It was a matter of minutes that the house was engulfed,” Nancy recalled. “It’s so true that you better have a plan to get out quickly.”

Nancy said Bob describes it as a nightmare. “We have flashbacks all the time,” she shared.

Nancy, a retired Hickory Public Schools preschool teacher, who worked the last several years of her career with special needs children, said the family noticed the smell of smoke in their Lakeland Park home and “saw it coming up from the basement. Alarms started going off.”

“I didn’t think of getting my purse or my car keys — all of those things,” Nancy recollected. “You just get out.” She called 911, watching flames pour from basement windows, the result, the LeGores later learned, of an electrical fire. “You call 911 and then you call your insurance company,” Nancy instructed, adding that you should never plug two power strips into the same wall outlet.

In minutes, the fire department arrived. “Some neighbors came over and took us to their home.” The LeGores didn’t watch the fire or the firefighters. When the flames had been extinguished, the house was still standing, a hole in the roof and all the windows blown out.

“The whole neighborhood started doing things,” said Nancy. “By afternoon, people were coming with new and used clothes, food, monetary gifts. The whole Lakeland Park neighborhood — even people we didn’t know — provided an outpouring of giving and love. People sent checks, notes.”

When it was safe, Bob peeked in the house. He told Nancy he thought there were some things that were salvageable. The LeGores never got the chance to do any salvaging. At 2 a.m., not 24 hours after the first fire, Bob, Nancy, and Brian were sleeping in their neighbors’ home across the street from the LeGores’ house when one of the neighbors woke them and said, “Your house is on fire again.”

Nancy said firefighters told them that because they’d had so much in their basement, it had been impossible to get all the embers out. When members of the fire department returned, “they really put the water to it.” What the fire didn’t consume, the high-powered blasts of water shattered. Nancy’s mother’s antique china and crystal lay in shards in the LeGores’ backyard.

The force of the water, the water itself, and two fires turned a house already declared by the insurance company to be a total loss into a “total, total loss,” Nancy described.

Speaking about the insurance company, Nancy couldn’t be more complimentary: “They were prompt and helpful and caring.” Because the family’s computer equipment had been ruined, their insurance agent invited them to come to his office and use any devices they needed to get necessary paperwork completed.

After three days with the neighbors, the LeGores moved into a hotel and then into a furnished rental house on Jan. 1, 2021. They bought the house next to me in April. They’re currently furnishing it. “Buying everything,” said Nancy.

People continue to reach out to Bob, Nancy, and Brian. Nancy said she’s heard from high school friends she hasn’t seen in years — “an outpouring of love and gifts and checking on us to make sure we’re OK. The same with my former co-workers at Hickory Public Schools. Most recently, they’ve given me a housewarming.” Moreover, Nancy’s nephew and his wife set up a GoFundMe page on Facebook for the LeGores.

“Bob said through this tragedy and these dark days, people have touched and warmed our hearts,” said Nancy. “We’ve really been blessed through this entire event.”

Nancy offered some suggestions:

1. Know your insurance policy. Ask your agent to explain it if necessary.

2. Make sure your policy covers everything from your home’s contents to the dwelling itself.

3. Know what’s in your home. “You need an inventory because you’re asked after a fire to provide a detailed inventory of everything in your home. Without one, it takes a long time to try to imagine each room, each section of each room, and what’s in it.”

4. Make sure your policy offers replacement value — not cash value.

5. Make sure you have all your important papers in a fireproof metal container and know where it is.

6. Know where your valuables are, so you or the fire department or someone can look for them.

7. Should tragedy strike, be aware of companies trying to take advantage of the situation, such as someone showing up within days of the fire, wanting to buy your property “as is” or companies claiming they can help you get more money from your insurance company. “You are in no emotional state to deal with decisions like that,” Nancy warned.

Before the second fire and after careful instructions from Nancy, a firefighter located some of Nancy’s mom’s rings.

Post subsequent blaze, “a demolition man came,” said Nancy. “He did find some photo albums. They were wet, but Bob took them out into the sun and cleaned them, and some are going to be OK.” They are snapshots of Bob and Nancy’s sons as children.

When one loses everything, one has to start over. Precious mementos and collections aside, I stopped and considered every item I use on a daily basis — toiletries, clothes, kitchen items, tools, stamps, ink pens, TV and computer equipment, medications, and on and on — and couldn’t fathom the headaches, the frustration.

“We’re adjusting to a different house,” concluded Nancy.

And new neighbors. I’m going to work extra hard to be a good one.

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This column is written by John Hood, a Carolina Journal columnist and author of the forthcoming novel "Mountain Folk," a historical fantasy set during the American Revolution.

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