Darren Doyle, story and photos:
Most people were trying to recoup from a four or five-day New Year weekend on Monday, January 2, 2017. Some were thinking about their New Year's resolutions, while others carried on 'business as usual.' However, Matt and Julie Richardson, along with their 10 year-old son, Cooper, were looking at the burned rubble of their house and property after a devastating fire claimed their home and possessions the night before.
The Richardsons, who are lifelong Edmonson County residents, first noticed smoke coming from out of the top of their wood-burning fireplace around 8pm and realized the fireplace rock was extremely hot. After Matt broke some of the rocks loose, he saw fire and smoke traveling upwards into the attic. Matt was able to take a garden hose and take care much of the fire himself before the fire department arrived.
The fire department stayed a couple hours running checks, searching the attic, overhangs, and also ran extensive temperature tests. Everything seemed ok and the scene was cleared. The Richardsons chose to go to the basement and stay at the home that night, considering there was only smoke and water damage to the upstairs area.
Matt, an experienced electrician, shut off power to that section of the home while everyone tried to get some sleep.
Around 2am, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors were activated. Matt said he thought that perhaps dirt and dust had caused a false alarm and he went upstairs to check it out. To his horror, the entire top floor was in flames. The fire department responded as quickly as possible, but the structure was too far gone to save. The Richardsons were standing in their pajamas in their driveway, on a cold January morning, with not much more than the clothes on their backs.
They have since moved into a mobile home just across the field from their Reed Road property (off Mohawk Road) while construction of their new home is underway.
"We're still dealing with this everyday," Matt said. "It's like you flipped a switch. We went from everything being ok one day to waking up the next day with everything changed. Even now, we go to get something, or pick something up and realize it's gone."
His wife Julie said that while it's been a struggle adjusting to their new life, they're trying to push forward.
"Everyday, things get a little better," she said. "We have days where one of us will be down, but the other will be up."
Julie said moving forward would've have been virtually impossible without help.
"People were so nice to us, people we don't even know," she said as the tears trickled down her cheek. "They offered us their houses, clothes, money, they offered Cooper toys."
They each discussed the importance of a strong community and how it strengthened them.
"I've thought about people that live in big cities, or people that live in places where they don't have any friends or family," said Matt. "When something like this happens, where do they go? What do they do? We've always been really independent. The hardest thing was realizing that we needed help, but help was here."
Julie also credited a higher power for their positive outlook.
"We're trying to stay positive because God has blessed us," she said. "He's helping us. All the people that've reached out to us, the prayers, everything. We're fortunate because we can rebuild. So many others can't and we realize that."
Julie shared how their son, Cooper, has been a strength to both of them.
"(Constable) Tim Skees gave Cooper $20 and told him to go buy something for himself, which was so nice," she said. "Cooper handed it to me and said, 'here Mom, you need this worse than me.' I mean, what do you say to that?" she said through tears.
While losing your home and possessions in a fire is a horrific tragedy, the Richardsons have been through even more adversity, worse than this.
"Another reason we can keep pushing forward is that this is not the worse thing we've faced," said Matt.
The Richardsons lost their infant daughter in 2005, Shelby, who was two days old and weighed one pound. She died of complications from her premature birth.
"When you realize that you're not in control of anything, and it's all in God's hands, it puts things in perspective," said Julie.
Matt said he's learned that nothing in life is guaranteed.
"Your things, your life, you're not in control," he said. "It reminds you that your little problems are not that bad. There's always someone who is in need worse than you. No matter how bad things are, they could always be worse."
Matt said he's also learned that personal possessions shouldn't be priorities.
"I don't care about stuff," he said. "It's not important. It's good to have, but you don't need it."
Julie said because of the outpouring of support from the community, it would be impossible to thank everyone individually, although they've attempted to send a load of thank you cards.
"We can't put our thanks into words," she said. "The words 'thank you' just seem so small. We always knew we could count on our closest family and friends for support, but it's just unbelievable how many people have helped us through this in one way or another."
Matt said that they're hope is to be able to thank everyone by giving back to the community in some way.
"I don't know how we can ever repay everybody, but we're working on ways how we can do that."
The family has begun the rebuilding of their home in the same place. The entire structure, including the basement and foundation, were all lost, so they've started from scratch. New basement walls have been constructed and the framing will begin soon.
"There really aren't enough words to thank everyone for what they've done for us," said Julie. "The money, clothes, all the things for Cooper, and most importantly, their prayers. We still need those prayers everyday. We've learned that we all need our community, our church family, our friends. It's truly amazing and overwhelming. What a blessing for how good people have been to us. Cooper is so thankful, too. We're thankful for our fire departments and we're going to try to help them give back to the community somehow, too. We're so thankful for this county. It's a good place."