Captain Kenneth Hendley, with the Ocilla Fire Department, answered a call Tuesday afternoon, just as he's done hundreds of times before.
But this time, as he heard the address of the home that was ablaze, he realized this would be a different call – it was his own home.
About 4:30 p.m., nine of Hendley's relatives were in his home on Highway 32 when the fire began on the stove, where there was food cooking.
Everyone made it out of the home safely, except for the family's pets: two birds and three dogs.
When firefighters arrived on the scene, there was heavy smoke coming from the structure, as well as large flames on the back side of the house.
“It was actually pretty rough to get called to my own house,” Hendley said. “When the call came in, I was at a wreck, and I thought, ‘that’s close to my house.’ But then when we got closer, and I heard the address, I thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s my house.’ In over 20 years, I’ve been to calls for other people. This is the first time I’ve had to go to a call for myself.”
The home sustained heavy damage.
“I think the shock has finally hit,” Hendley said Wednesday in a telephone interview. It was dark Tuesday night when the fire was finally out, and Hendley said the family wasn’t really able to see the true condition of their home until Wednesday.
Hendley said there are clothes donations coming in, but the main thing he’s worried about is Christmas for his six grandchildren, who were living with him and his wife, Celeste. The children are 14 (male), 12 (female), 6 (male), 3 (female) and 3 (male) years old, and the baby, another girl, is not yet a year old.
“The biggest thing right now (that I’m worried about) is the grandbabies’ Christmas gifts,” Hendley said.
On top of the fire, Hendley said he’s been out of work with a broken leg for about two months, and that has impacted his family financially as well.
“It’s been kind of rough,” he said.
The Red Cross has provided shelter for the family, and the fire department s collecting clothes and other items for the family. According to firefighter Lt. Dustin Vandergrift, anything is appreciated.
"They pretty much lost everything," he said. He added that donations can be dropped off at the fire department, located at 216 East 5th Street in Ocilla, or the Irwin County Sheriff's Department, located at 400 South Irwin Avenue.
To contact editor Angye Morrison, call 382-4321.