By Sarah Plummer
HINTON — With two major blazes and multiple structures in the line of fire Tuesday morning, fire victims, families, friends and members of the community stepped up to ensure each other’s safety during the fire that leveled 11 homes and six separate structures in downtown Hinton.
Randy Weikle said he smelled smoke and heard sirens and looked outside his back window, which faces the backside of “the brick row” where Tuesday morning’s fire started.
He said he could see flames and smoke in the building next door to where his hearing impaired and wheelchair-bound mother-in-law, Priscilla Martin, lived.
“I went out front and started getting them out of there and it was not long before the fire had spread. I kicked a lot of doors in and even got some birds out of there,” he said.
Weikle first got to his mother-in-law, who was unaware the building next door was on fire. Once she was safe on the street he returned to help others evacuate.
Katherine Boggess lived in the center block with her four children, a 16-month-old grandchild and another small boy she cares for.
“My smoke alarm went off and woke me up. I opened the bedroom door and there was smoke everywhere. I got downstairs to get my kids out,” she shared. “I had to go back upstairs to get my dog. She panicked and went back upstairs under the bed and hid.”
Like several of the fire victims, Boggess has family and friends nearby to stay with.
“Right now I’m staying with my uncle but I’m at a loss. There is just so much of a loss you don’t know what to do. I’m not sure what we are going to do from here,” she said.
Jeremiah Martin, also a fire victim, said he woke up to the sound of his ex-girlfriend pounding on his door to alert him the neighboring structures were on fire.
He said he and his mother sought shelter in their van until the fire spread so badly they were forced to leave the parked vehicle.
“I lost everything but I’m OK right now. I’m staying with family,” he said.
For several people braving wind gusts and frigid rain early in the morning, many of whom had been up all night watching the firefighters at work, these recent fires bring back memories of a string of arsons in Hinton in 2009.
“It wasn’t too long ago arsonists nearly destroyed everything. It brings back memories of those fires. And I’ve had so many friends live in these houses over the years. I’ve spent a lot of time in them and it brings back memories of those times, too,” said Danny Fitzpatrick.
Katie Smith also recalled the 2009 fires and added, “Whoever did this deserves to be put away for a long time. There were several people in these apartments that had to be carried out. People could have easily been killed.”
Hinton Mayor Joe Blankenship said, “Our focus right now is on the victims and trying to find them homes and places to go. Many of them are lucky and have friends or relatives they can stay with. Currently REACHH Family Resource Center is helping to contact all victims and get them coordinated with the American Red Cross.”
“My heart goes out to all these victims and our prayers go out to them. We hope and pray we can get them placed in homes by this evening,” he said.