By Dave Russell
Stephanie Hornbuckle was asleep in the home she had lived in since childhood when “popping and cracking” woke her up in the wee hours of Thursday, April 1.
“When I realized that the sound I was hearing was fire, I came out of my room, which is in the basement, and I saw the ceiling on fire, so I ran upstairs and woke everybody up,” Hornbuckle said. “My cousin started waking everybody up. The upstairs was filling up with smoke right then and everybody got out just in time. It’s a definite blessing.”
Also in the home at the time were Hornbuckle’s father, Bill Henderson; her daughter Brittany Hornbuckle, and husband, Marcus Conner and their newborn; her cousin, Phillip Newcomer; and her brother, Bill Henderson Jr.
“The front of the house just looks like the windows are busted out and there’s a big hole in the roof where they had to get into the attic,” she said. “But when you look through a window, you see that there is no back to the house.”
The house is a total loss, and the family lost everything.
The home had a smoke detector but it never activated, Hornbuckle said.
Insurance on the home had lapsed, she said.
“The Eastern Band has offered to help us out, and I’d like to stay on my property and hopefully rebuild,” she said. “There are a lot of sentimental emotions that go with that. But we’re looking at all the positive things that come out of it, a whole new start, a whole new everything, new baby. We’re trying to keep a positive outlook on it and not dwell on the loss.”
The call about the fire came into 911 dispatch at 3:23 a.m., according to Zeb Holland of the Jackson County Fire Marshal’s Office.
The cause of the fire was still undetermined as of Monday afternoon.
“We do know that the fire started somewhere in the bottom floor of the house, but due to the severity of the damage we were not able to do a deep investigation,” Holland said.
Cullowhee Fire Department was the first unit on the scene, with mutual aid from Sylva, Cashiers and Savannah. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and Harris EMS were onsite as well.
The fire was quickly contained, Holland said.
“The first engine in from Cullowhee got a good knockdown on the fire, and once the mutual aid departments got there the fire was contained shortly after,” he said.
The three-bedroom home sits on a .2-acre parcel surrounded by several others Stephanie and Brittany Hornbuckle own, according to Jackson County tax records. The 61-year-old structure had a tax value of about $50,000.