Laura Whatley, 50, lost nearly everything in a house fire last weekend.
Help from friends, neighbors and co-workers has kept her in relatively good spirits, but even a helping hand can, at times, trigger a pang of grief.
“Today, somebody had asked me, ‘Oh, what kind of lightweight jacket would you like?’” Whatley told The Times on Thursday.
Then it hit her.
“I lost my dad’s jacket. Now, this jacket is from 1978 or ‘79, and he’s been dead for over 20 years,” she said. “So it’s little things like that that’ll kick my — that'll crawl up me.”
The fire, fueled by strong winds, engulfed her two-story home and two cars parked in the driveway Saturday, April 1, on the 3300 block of Forest Lane in Gainesville.
The blaze spread to the woods and “came within inches of the next door property,” Whatley said. “The winds were so bad, the flames were so high.”
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Kimberlie Ledsinger, spokeswoman for Hall County Fire Rescue, said investigators should have answers next week.
Whatley said the fire started on the side of the house where the electrical box is located.
Around 8:30 p.m. Saturday, she noticed a “weird smell” coming from the living room while throwing something away in the kitchen.
“I was in the kitchen and rounded the corner to go into the living room to see what the smell was, and that's when I saw the fires coming in through the living room windows,” she said. “About the same time my tenant had smelled something, too, and he's running downstairs. We see it at the same time. Basically what happened is we ran out the deck down the stairs because it was the only place that we could make it.”
The next door neighbors called 911, she said.
Hall County firefighters arrived around 8:50 p.m.
“The size of the structure produced a large fire, but the crews worked diligently to ensure that it was put out in a timely manner and did not extend to nearby houses,” Ledsinger wrote in an email on Saturday.
Whatley, who works in the safety department of Freedom Trans trucking company, is staying at a neighbor’s house for now. She and her tenant escaped with minor injuries.
“It could have been much worse,” she said. “It could have happened later that night. I could have been asleep.”
Sara Brady, a co-worker of Whatley’s, started a GoFundMe with a $10,000 goal.
“Laura is a dear friend,” she told The Times. “I wanted to do whatever I could to help her.”