The place wasn’t completely livable yet — Kenneth was building an addition to accommodate all the children — but about a fourth of the family’s belongings had been moved over there. The rest was still in the Anderson Road home and the barn, which was completely full. "We had a brand-new swimming pool we just bought last year, and a bunch of tools and equipment and all,” said Carrie Wertz, 41. When they heard about the fire, they tried approaching the Anderson Road home from the north, but fire crews and police had shut down the road. They circled around to Reno Avenue and tried getting in from the south. No luck. They couldn’t get to their belongings or their cats. They could only watch as the flames crested the hill and surged across the road. They left.
‘We will survive’Jeanson, Brown and the Wertz family returned to their homes Friday morning. Of them all, Jeanson was the luckiest. Several homes in Oakwood East were destroyed. Fire skipped through the housing addition like a tornado, choosing houses at random. Across Westbury Drive, Jeanson’s neighbors lost everything. Her home escaped intact. The blaze melted a plastic storage tub, scorched the grass, damaged a glider and burned holes in the stockade fence, but firefighters stopped it just short of the house. "It’s the craziest thing,” Jeanson said. "Would you believe we just put up that fence last week?” Little remained of Brown’s home but a leaking aboveground pool and a charred foundation. Her family and friends raked through the ashes Friday, digging out coins and jewelry. Like the Wertzes, Brown was planning to move and had already purchased another home. "It’s not ready to live in,” she said, "but it’ll have to be. We’ve got people volunteering to come in and help us get it ready. ... I feel luckier than most. We have another home. We had insurance. A lot of people came away from this with nothing but the clothes on their backs.” The Wertz home was not insured. It was destroyed. So was the barn, which contained part of a bell collection that Carrie’s mother had acquired over the years. Shards of bells could be seen among the ashes. A handful of them were saved. Carrie cried when she saw the wreckage. "It’s my family home,” she said, trying to control herself. "It’s horrible. You don’t really know what to think, you know. You’re just numb all over.” She looked up at the oak tree, which was untouched by flames. "We’ll survive,” she said. "We will survive.”