Sampson County Fire Claims Lives, Inspires Hope

Link to FayObserver story - Sampson County Fire

Fire quickly engulfed and destroyed the home in Sampson County.

by: James Jarvis, American Red Cross

Andre Smith, or ‘Dre as his friends called him, loved video games, playing basketball, and watching professional wrestling. At ten years old, he was a full-loving child who always had a smile on his face and enjoyed goofing off with his cousins, said Sabrina Sheridan, ‘Dre’s aunt. “He said that he wanted to be a policeman someday so that he could help people,” Sheridan said. ‘Dre’s sister, Tashiya, had dreams of her own.

Tashiya was younger than ‘Dre, only nine years old, but she was certainly no smaller personality. “She lit up the room, “ Sheridan said. “She was always singing, dancing, laughing, or playing. She loved to ‘dress up’ and hoped to become a teacher someday.”
Two beautiful children, full of life and brimming with potential, will unfortunately never achieve their dreams, as they lost their lives along with four others in a tragic mobile home fire in Garland, NC on August 30, 2014. Six lives lost and three families left to grieve over what could have been.

Sabrina Sheridan remembers her sister as a hard-working mother. When Anita Robinson, 33, was not playing games with her children, ‘Dre and Tashiya, or helping them with their homework, she was hard at work to try to provide them with a better life. “She had a personality that everyone loved. Her family was her life and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her,” Sheridan said.

‘Dre and Tashiya were not Anita’s only loves. For the past seven years, Johnnie Newkirk, 35, better known as Kent, was Anita’s man. Kent loved working with his hands, said his aunt, Ms. Lizzie Murphy. “He was always working on car stereos, electronics, anything he could get his hands on. If you needed it fixed, he could do it!”

Kent was a family man, Murphy explained. “He tried to see his son [age 7] as often as he could and he loved Anita’s children as if they were his own.” He remained close to his mother, Laura Ann Newkirk, 63, until his final day.

“Laura Ann was a very quiet person,” said Murphy of her youngest sister. “She read her bible, looked out for everyone, and was really involved with ‘Dre and Tashiya. She cared for them when Anita had to work late and helped them with their homework and basically kept them on track,” Murphy said. When Murphy retired, she reconnected with Laura Ann and the two spoke by telephone sometimes three times a day. “We were very close growing up and it was great to become so close to her again,” she said.

“Everyone loved Possum,” said James Wilson’s mother, Queen Esther Wilson of Clinton, NC. James Wilson, known simply as Possum from the time he was a baby, was the eldest son from among 15 children. Possum was a rugged man – a product of 30 years of hard work as a farmer in nearby Clinton, NC. For nearly 25 years, Possum was Laura Ann’s companion and never far from her side. Queen Esther remembers her son as a God-fearing man who had a heart of gold.

Six lives, three generations – gone. Shortly after 12:30 a.m., in the early morning hours of Aug. 31, 2014, Laura Ann’s mobile home caught fire. “My grandson (Solomon) was the first person to arrive on the scene,” said Joyce Miles, a neighbor and Laura Ann Newkirk’s cousin. “He ran as fast as he could and tried to kick in the door, but the fire threw him backwards. There was nothing anyone could do. In a little less than seven minutes, the whole structure was gone!”

By all accounts, this tragedy could have been prevented if Laura Ann’s mobile home had been protected by smoke alarms. Fire investigators determined that there were no working smoke alarms in Laura Ann’s home.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, three out of every five home fire deaths result from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms. To help ensure that no other family endures the pain and intense grief that these families endured, the Office of the State Fire Marshal, numerous fire departments of Sampson County, the American Red Cross, and several other local, state, and national organizations partnered October 4th to install nearly 800 10-year smoke alarms in at-risk communities across the county.

Hundreds of volunteers canvassed dozens of neighborhoods across the county to teach people about fire safety, and properly install working fire alarms in their homes. “Fire is everyone’s fight,” said Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Wayne Goodwin. “By working together, by pooling our resources, and by reaching out to the most at-risk communities, we can prevent future tragedies.”

Through their grief, the families of the people lost that fateful night are grateful to see something positive come from their tragedy. “What they are doing now is just a Godsend and a blessing,” said Murphy. “It’s as if our family has been through a horrible storm and then when it seems darkest, the skies turn blue and all that’s left are little pieces. God will help us put the pieces back together and see us through. Hopefully this program will help ensure that no one else loses their lives unnecessarily.”

“We’re all grieving. We’re all hurting,” said Miles. “The trailer is a constant reminder for me (as it rests across the street from her home). Not an hour goes by that I don’t think of them. I remember Tashiya being so happy the day before… she was singing and laughing and it’s hard to comprehend not hearing that laughter again or seeing them run into the house from the school bus. It’s so sad to see so many generations lost in one tragedy. It’s truly amazing how many people and resources have flowed into our community following this tragedy. Hopefully their efforts will help ensure that no one else will have to experience this.”

To learn more about fire safety, please visit our Home Fire Preparedness page. To learn more about the American Red Cross’ Home Fires Campaign, please visit our Home Fire Campaign page.

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Community partners come out to support the fire prevention campaign

Oct 4 fire camp 1

The 100 volunteers attending the Office of State Fire Management Fire Alarm training in a church hall before going out into the community.

A mobile home fire took the lives of six individuals on September 1st 2014 in Sampson County, NC and a result the community partners within the county and state banded together to do a fire prevention campaign on October 4th 2014. On the morning of the 4th approximately twenty community partners, over one hundred volunteers, approximately one thousand fire alarms, a few hundred carbon monoxide detectors and other materials came together for a one hour training session before forming task forces and hitting the communities.

Oct 4 fire camp 2

One of the task force groups, includes seven partner groups, ready to start the installations.

Among the volunteers and community partner groups, one group stood tall on the day. Red Cross Ready When the Time Comes partner Murphy Brown. The volunteer group was approximately thirty strong and many had a reason to come out. The fire on Sept. 1st took the life of one of their employees. There was a consensus among the volunteers at the beginning of the day was that this campaign is “a great way to save lives and help in the community”.

However, it was through the experiences with the task force group that I went out that made that quote come alive. The task force group that I went out with included two fire chiefs and fire fighters from Salemberg, NC, Farm Bureau, Murphy Brown  and a young girl who’s mother asked her to volunteer with her and assist as a Spanish Interpreter The very first home that we entered was a person who was well connected in the Salemberg community and the fire department felt comfortable with going to his home. The Fire Chief, David Hairr, explained to me that this was a gentleman who could assist in making connection with those in the community whom may not open the door to them and were the same residents who most needed the alarms installed. He was right. This gentleman rode his bike around the community, opened doors to homes of people who were out for the day but wanted us to do the alarms, he was there at more than half the residents we went to. It was a similar story with another resident, who was home-bound, she called her friends and in one conversation reminded the person that it was just the week before that they talked about having their fire alarms checked. By the end of the day the quote ” a great way to save lives and help in the community” had taken a life of its own. The volunteer from Farm Bureau, said “it was great to actually see streets where his clients lived and know that the fire departments know the community and his clients have smoke alarms now”.

Any community organizations or businesses interested in learning about volunteering opportunities with American Red Cross, please contact Wendy Flynn, Regional Volunteer Relations Specialist, at Wendy.Flynn@redcross.org or at (910) 610-8887.

Partners Included:

Union Grove Baptist Church

Murphy Brown

American Red Cross

Emergency Management staff- various counties

Clinton Fire Dept.

Harrells Fire Dept.

Office of State Fire Management

Clinton Police Dept.

Garland Fire Dept.

Rockingham Fire Marshal

Clement Fire Dept.

Halls Fire and Rescue

Newton Fire Dept.

Salemberg Fire Dept.

Plainview Fire Dept.

Turkey Fire Dept.

Crossroads Fire Dept.

Hollands Baptist Church

Farm Bureau

Nationwide Insurance

Taylor’s Bridge Fire and Rescue

NC Baptist Builders

 

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