'Everything was just gone': Millersville family struggles after mobile home fire

Monday, January 28, 2013
Sommer Gerber shows her grandfather Harry Matlock photos she salvaged from the remains of their home while her sister Brittany searches through debris Friday. A fire destroyed the mobile home Jan. 21. The family, which includes Gerber’s grandmother Linda and mother Deanna Baine, is living in a recreational vehicle on the property. (ADAM VOGLER)

You think it's going to happen to someone else.

Harry Matlock used to believe that until a fire Jan. 21 severely damaged the mobile home that he shared with his family in Millersville. Virtually everything inside the home was destroyed, and now Matlock, his wife, their daughter and two grandchildren are living in a recreational vehicle next to what used to be their home.

Brittany Gerber looks through the remains of the home she shared with her grandparents Harry and Linda Matlock, her mother Deanne Baine and her sister Sommer Friday, Jan. 25. A fire destroyed the house Monday, Jan. 21. The family is now living in a recreational vehicle on the property. (ADAM VOGLER)

"Reality sure can slap you in the face," Matlock said.

Matlock and his family have been trying to cope with that reality since the fire. Through help from the American Red Cross and family and friends, they have been able to purchase a small set of new clothes to replace the wardrobes lost in the fire, and they've been provided with much needed food. But life in the cramped quarters of the recreational vehicle looks like the status quo for the foreseeable future.

"The Red Cross was able to get us a motel room in Cape for four days," Matlock said. "I stayed in the camper while my family took turns staying in the motel, but now that's run out."

Matlock, a disabled veteran of the U.S. Army, already had been living in the recreational vehicle so there would be more space inside the mobile home for his family.

Linda, left, and Harry Matlock and their granddaughters, Sommer, right, and Brittany Gerber, talk to Southeast Missourian reporter Keith Lewis Friday, Jan. 25, in a recreational vehicle the family is living in after a fire destroyed the home they shared with Deanna Baine, the Matlock's daughter and Brittany and Sommer's mother. (ADAM VOGLER)

"I got up Monday morning at about 4:30 to put wood in our outdoor stove," he said. "The stove sat three feet away from the mobile home, and the burning wood provided heat inside through a stovepipe. I did that like I always do and I didn't see anything wrong."

Matlock said he next went inside the mobile home to get a cup of coffee and visit with his daughter, Deanna Baine, and granddaughter Sommer Gerber. He then took his coffee to the RV, but it wasn't long before Baine rushed outside, telling him the mobile home was on fire.

"I said, 'You're kidding me,'" Matlock remembered. "I ran inside, and, sure enough, the wall in the dining room was burning."

According to Matlock, the fire started inside the outdoor stove's housing unit and flames eventually reached the wall of the mobile home and burned through. After he awakened his wife Linda and made a fast call to the Millersville fire department, Matlock joined his family in fighting the blaze. They used buckets of water drawn from a faucet and jugs of spring water to douse the fire, and for a minute it looked like they would prevail.

"We almost had it under control," Matlock said. "But the fire caused breakers to be thrown, and that cut off the water from our pump. Then we ran out of jugs of water, and the fire took over."

Firefighters from Millersville were the first to arrive, followed by support units from the Fruitland, Gordonville and Whitewater fire departments.

"The home was about 50 percent burned when we got there," said Captain Sean Mitchell of the Millersville Rural Fire Protection District. "And the part we were able to keep from burning had serious smoke damage. I'm just thankful everybody was out of the house."

Mitchell believes the fire was accidental.

"An official report hasn't been issued," he said, "but from what I've gathered, the fire wasn't intentional."

After the fire had been subdued, Brittany Gerber, Harry Matlock's youngest granddaughter, arrived to see what remained of her home after having spent the night at a friend's house.

"I had a sick feeling when I saw it," she said. "My stomach dropped. Everything was just gone. The house, furniture, computer -- everything."

The shock that Harry Matlock and his family received by seeing their mobile home reduced to charred rubble was compounded by it being uninsured. Matlock said the position of the outdoor stove was the reason for not having insurance.

"The insurance company said it was too close to the house," he said. "But trust me, I'm done with wood heat. There'll be insurance the next time around."

Always a good provider for his family, Matlock had considered handling the loss by himself, but the severity of the damage made that a daunting task.

"When you walk into what used to be the dining room and what used to be other rooms and see all the mess, it's just too much."

Pastor Ken Strong of Father's Arms Fellowship in Scott City understands, and he is reaching out to help Matlock and his family.

"We want to help any way we can" he said. "Harry and Linda were active members of our church, and they're good people. I contacted them the day after the fire and posted a video concerning their plight on YouTube. Through our benevolence fund we're trying to raise enough money to get them a good, used mobile home to live in. Five people in an RV is no way to live."

Strong said people should put themselves in the shoes of Harry Matlock and his family.

"What would we want other people to do to help us?" he said. "Jesus said that it's better to give than to receive, and when a person gives, it's a seed being sown that always produces fruit."

Donations to the benevolence fund on behalf of Harry Matlock and his family can be made by sending a check with "Benevolence" in the memo to Father's Arms Fellowship, P.O. Box 4297, Scott City, MO 63780, or by visiting www.fathersarmsfellowship.org.

klewis@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

County Road 351, Millersville, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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