Wendy Waycaster lost her home and most of her possessions in an early morning fire on Sunday. Monday afternoon, Waycaster was counting herself among the lucky.
“We are all OK. We’ve got insurance, which is very good. Honestly, we’re lucky all the way around,” she said, as she stood looking at the aftermath of the fire that gutted her home on East Chilhowie Avenue.
Firefighters were called to the house just after 6 a.m. and found the house in flames. It took 24 firefighters — the crews from three engines and a ladder truck — 35 minutes to extinguish the blaze and much of rest of the day to put out the hot spots.
While the cause remains under investigation, fire officials said it appeared to have started in the basement. Afterward, Fire Department Capt. Steve Weaver reported the house was a complete loss. The good news was that no one was home and no one was injured.
By chance, Waycaster said, she and her 13-year-old son Brandon had spent the night at her mother’s home in Gray. Her oldest son, Nick, was away at college. And her fiance, Carl, and his son Kyle, had left at 4 a.m. for a construction job in Virginia. “Any other night, we would have all been here,” she said.
When a neighbor called before sunrise on Sunday, Waycaster came home to find the back half of the home collapsing, its roof burned away and its contents a charred pile of rubble and water-soaked furnishings.
Surrounding the destruction were Waycaster’s neighbors. There were people she had known all her life and many others she had never met, who all came offering help, bringing gifts of clothing and supplies, and starting the work of starting over.
“I bet there were at least 50 people who came by just to ask us if there was anything we needed who I have no idea who those people were,” she said. So when the newspaper called on Monday, Waycaster readily accepted an opportunity to speak because, she said, “I had no idea how I was going to thank all those people.”
She began with the firefighters. “They were great. They brought out our pictures off the walls and two bags of things I had in a closet. My dad’s Air Force jacket was in there. That jacket and all of Nick’s baseball jerseys since he was 6 or 7.”
“Alex, my friend who lives down the street, as the firefighters brought things out to me, she took them and put it in the building. And she stayed with my mom.
“Our neighbor Joe and his wife brought us a huge bag of clothes. Another of my Stratton (school) friends on Holston, Kelly Trottie, brought us a big bag of shampoo, lotion, soap, toilet paper, toothbrushes, everything you wouldn’t realize you didn’t have until you need them. And the James family, Micky and Patsy, they brought us clothes.”
The Red Cross arrived within 10 minutes of receiving the Waycasters’ call. “They brought us a bag of blankets and afghans that were made by the women at the senior center. They paid for one night in a hotel and they’re looking for a pet-friendly hotel for us.
“Don Brady, next door to Joe, he called me and he helped board the house up. Lowe’s gave us the plywood. We called them to ask if they had any scrap and they gave it to us. And Wayne next door, he took his truck and picked it up for us.
“I don’t even know who all was helping, but they brought sawhorses, saws. There were electric cords running across the street.
“I (only) know my neighbors well enough to throw up my hand and say ‘Hi.’ But you couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of people.”
Of all the friends and all strangers who came to her family’s aid on Sunday, Waycaster said there is one person she would especially like to thank. “The firefighters told us a woman was driving by on her way to Munsey church and she saw the house on fire and called them. A lot of people would have said, ‘Oh, someone will call,’ and kept driving. But she stopped and she went up and knocked on our doors. I don’t know who she was, but I would really like to thank that woman.”