Area church rebuilding family’s home
The Tilley family, from left, Eric, Karen and Patrick, all escaped the July 2 fire in their Depot Street home.
By Kristen SwingPatrick Tilley awoke with a start when his CPAP breathing machine suddenly stopped working shortly after 12:30 a.m. on July 2. That startled feeling quickly turned to panic when he pulled the mask off his face to get a breath of air.
“I raised that mask up and I smelled smoke,” he recalled. “I went out and saw the fire by the washer and dryer.”
Tilley says he immediately woke up his wife, Karen, and 26-year-old son, Eric, while grabbing a nearby fire extinguisher. His attempt to put out the flames seemed to only make the situation worse as a set of cabinets above the laundry machines became engulfed in the blaze.
“That’s when I said, ‘Get out. Get out now,’” Tilley said. “Within five minutes, you couldn’t hardly see.”
Moments later, members of the Jonesborough Fire Department arrived at the mobile home on Depot Street and began battling the fire. Their efforts included saving more than just the home.
Two of the Tilleys’ three cats were carried out of the residence unconscious and not breathing.
Amazingly, firefighters managed to resuscitate both cats, then brought them to a nearby ambulance to receive some much-needed oxygen.
“After that, they were walking around on their own,” Tilley said. “I couldn’t believe the firefighters were willing to save our cats.”
As they continued to fight the blaze, firefighters ushered the Tilley family to a nearby church parking lot where the trio huddled together awaiting word of what was left of the home.
“That night, I didn’t think we were ever going to get back into our home,” Tilley said of the residence he and his wife have lived in for 25 years. “We didn’t know what was going on up here. We didn’t see it until the next morning.”
While seeing all the black smoke covering the home was admittedly “overwhelming,” Tilley said Jonesborough Fire Chief Phil Fritts offered the family a “glimmer of hope” when he said it was all “fixable.”
“The house is still standing. Our guys confined the fire to where it started,” Fritts said. “It wasn’t a complete loss.”
In fact, with the help of an estimated 30 to 40 strangers, the Tilleys home will be completely repaired within the next three to four weeks.
“Our church volunteered to do the work and labor on getting this family back into their home,” said Greg Doebler, lead pastor of Crosspoint Church in Jonesborough. “Our church is two years old and the very reason we started was to make an impact and a difference in our community. This gives us an opportunity to do what our church was created to do. It’s just an awesome thing to be able to do.”
On Saturday, dozens of people filed in and out of the Tilley home, which some three weeks later still wreaked of smoke and remained without power.
Volunteers worked to gut the damaged parts of the mobile home in preparation for a major renovation project. Others diligently recorded measurements on a piece of scrap paper and drove off to select new cabinets and other necessities for the home.
“This is overwhelming. It is amazing how a tragedy in the middle of the night can turn into something like this,” said Karen Tilley, fighting back tears as she watched all of the action. “I just don’t’ have the words. We have put all of our faith in the Lord that he would take care of us. And He has brought us a community of strangers.”
The lifelong Jonesborough resident says she has always loved her hometown, but now has an even deeper appreciation for the community.
“I have never wanted to leave here and never have in 50 years,” she said. “This experience has showed me what a caring community this is that comes together to help like this.”
After the fire, Karen’s mother, who lives next door, took in her displaced loved ones, including the trio of feline family members. Three days later, Patrick Tilley underwent a scheduled heart surgery from which he continues to recover.
The experiences of the last month have been trying for the Tilley family, but they have also served as an important reminder about what really matters.
“We lost a lot in the fire. We lost a lot of family portraits and things that we thought were important. But they’re not important, really,” Karen Tilley said. “I’m just glad that we three and the cats got out. The rest of this is just stuff.”
Volunteers will spend the next month tearing out, cleaning up and rebuilding the Tilley home. Anyone interested in donating money or materials to help with the project can call 773-7725.