AXTON — Three families that total 13 people have no home today. The house on Nowhere Road where they lived is rubble.
Two fires broke out 10 days ago. Everyone is safe, including the guinea pig, but the families lost everything they had. Now they’re living in a tent.
“These kids are devastated,” Diane Michaelis said. “They are trying to keep them halfway normal.”
Diane is the sister of Fred Taber, the patriarch of the family. Diane and her son, Brian Clagett, traveled from Williamsburg to Axton on Tuesday to help.
“We were bringing a pop-up camper someone loaned them, but the wheel bearing burned out on the passenger side, and the wheel came off [in Richmond],” Clagett said. “I had to leave it there, but I’m going back today to try to get it fixed so I can bring it back this weekend.”
For now, the family is staying in a camping tent on the property. Fred Taber sits in a folding chair near his oxygen tank trying to make sense of it all.
It was a normal Thursday afternoon. “I was in the bedroom on the computer,” Taber said. “The air conditioner in the living room had quit, so I got up and went over to the breaker box, and the circuit breaker had gone out. So I flipped it back on, and sparks flew out. I thought it was a short someplace.
“I didn’t have my shoes on, so I went back to get my shoes. By the time I got back, my son-in-law said, ‘Hey Grandpa, the whole back of the house is on fire!’ I went out and grabbed up the garden hose, but the nozzle was broke, and you couldn’t squeeze it.
“I got my toolbox and a pair of pliers and got back out there. By that time the windows were blowing out. Smoke was starting to come out from under the eaves.”
Dorothy Taber, his wife, was just returning home after picking up her grandson from an after-school JROTC activity at Magna Vista High School.
“I had just pulled in, and I ran in there and grabbed his [Fred’s] medication and mine and a few things lying on the bed and came back out,” she said.
Carolyn Jarrett, Brosville Fire Department Fire Chief, said her department responded with a tanker truck and off-road vehicle along with responders from the Axton Fire Department, Callands Fire Department and Tunstall Fire Department.
“The fire departments kept coming out,” Dorothy Taber. “They kept bringing their tanker trucks, and then they would go fill up, and they would come back. They used a lot of water.”
Tunstall Fire Chief Troy Talley said his firefighters dropped off 4,800 gallons of water at a time.
By Thursday night, the fire was out. The kitchen and bedroom were still standing.
“They put up the yellow tape, but we ducked in. Had to take one look to see what was left. I had some stuff in there,” Fred Taber said.
“He grabbed his laptop and his wallet,” his wife said.
“It was hot and smoky in there, and I can’t stand much of that, so I thought we’ll come back tomorrow and see what we can get out of there,” Fred Taber said.
The American Red Cross provided a place for them to stay at the Quality Inn Dutch Inn in Collinsville.
“We stayed the night there, and the next morning the phone rang, and the guy from the desk said they had gotten a call that said the rest of our house had burned down,” Taber said.
“Next day the fire department wouldn’t come back up here,” Clagett said. “They stood here and watched the rest of it burn down. They lost the other half of the house. His oxygen tanks were in there, ammunition, propane tanks.”
Said Dorothy Taber: “The fire department couldn’t get here because the electric pole was on fire, and the wire was dancing.”
Carolyn Jarrett, Brosville’s fire chief, said AEP had disconnected the power while they were fighting the fire Thursday but reconnected the power after the fire was out, so other residents nearby would have electricity.
The Tabers live in a remote area of Henry County. The address is 463 Nowhere Road “because it’s .463 miles from the mailbox to our house,” Fred Taber said.
“We tell people we live in the middle of nowhere,” his wife said.
“The road was an access road that ended down there at the creek [Mann Creek],” Fred Taber said. “We had to put the bridge in, but it floods in the spring and the fall. If you’re in you’re in, and if you’re out, you’re out.”
A large family
Fred Taber, 76, is retired. He suffers from COPD and is on oxygen. Dorothy, 62, lives with him and is the caregiver for her parents, who live nearby.
“They can’t leave because her mother is on dialysis and requires 24-hour care,” Michaelis said.
The house also is home to Taber’s sister Debra Anthony, 58; his daughter, Jessica Gibson, 35, her husband, Justice, 40, and their four children – Destiny, 12; Nathan, 9; Abigail, 6; and Autumn, 10 months; and his son, Kenneth Tabor, 40, and his two children, Tristin Devin, 14, and Trinity Devin, and his girlfriend and mother of his children, Cheryl Sowers, 42.
“We have six grandchildren living with us because their parents are only making minimum wage. You can’t afford to take care of your family” on that, Dorothy Taber said.
Lots of help
The home was not insured. “The mobile home was 30 years old,” Dorothy Taber said. “They wouldn’t insure it unless the tongue had been removed and it was on a foundation.
“Red Cross helped.”
Said Fred Taber: “They gave us a voucher to get some stuff we needed right away. I had a pair of shorts on and a pair of Crocs, and that was it.”
Dorothy Taber said Abundant Life Church as well as some of the teachers at Laurel Park Middle School gave the family donations.
“The neighbor over there, she came out yesterday and gave us 20 dollars,” she said. “The lady that works in the deli at Food Lion at Leatherwood gave us a 100-dollar bill and a gift card. She didn’t have to do that. Mercy Crossing got us some stuff from their clothes closet. A lot of family members have been helping.”
While the immediate needs of the family are being met, the bigger problem is replacing their home.
“We want to build back,” Fred and Dorothy said in unison.
“We own this property. I mean it doesn’t make sense,” Dorothy Taber said.
Ruth Clagett Ahola, a family member in Weatherford, Texas, set up a GoFundMe account for the Tabers on Wednesday, with a goal of $50,000. Within a few hours $1,100 had been raised.
“It’s overwhelming to us,” Michaelis said. “I was saving money for a new floor in my house, but I’m giving it to my brother, because he doesn’t have a floor.”