• John McGary, Woodford Sun News Editor

Fire victims touched by community support, ‘They are the light in our dark moment’

THREE DAYS AFTER a fire badly damaged their home, Tabitha and David Nichols sat on the back porch of their Kilmer Street house and talked about what’s next – and how touched they are by the community’s support. (Photo by John McGary)

A few hours after the Oct. 8 fire tore through their Kilmer Street home, Tabitha and David Nichols went to Kroger. Tabitha took three of their six children inside to check out the toys on clearance, and saw another mother with her kids.

Tabitha said the woman’s children were asking her to buy toys for them, but their mom responded that Christmas was approaching, and the more toys she bought now, the fewer Santa would bring.

“And she’s like, ‘Am I right, Mom?’ And I kind of looked at her, and I’m like, ‘I can’t really say anything. They just lost everything in a house fire,’” Tabitha said. “And she instantly got kind of teary-eyed and she came over and hugged me and she’s like, ‘I am so sorry. Please pick out some toys. You guys need something.’”

Tabitha said the younger two boys asked for LEGOs, “And my oldest one just turned and cried and was just like, ‘I just want my room back.’” The other mother bought toys for the Nichols’ children and asked her if they needed clothes or anything else.

“Amazing,” Tabitha said. “It was a bittersweet moment, it is – the whole thing’s bittersweet. It’s horrible, what happened, but the way the town is rallying around us, it’s like they are the light in our dark moment. They’re what is kind of keeping us strong and reminding us, ‘You can do this.’”

David said support from strangers, neighbors, firefighters (he’s a former volunteer firefighter) and groups like the Red Cross, Rolling Thunder and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 56 (he’s a former soldier and Army reservist) have revitalized the way they think about Versailles. His sister started a GoFundMe page, which Tabitha learned about when she was contacted by a Lexington television station.

“You live here so long that you kind of get to the point where you’re like, ‘Aw, everybody knows everybody, everybody’s in your business… they see you when you go, they see you when you come,” David said. But when something like this happens, it’s amazing to be in a small town, because countless neighbors came out and helped us, you know, were there for us, and they still are.”

He said some of those neighbors are keeping an eye on their home to make sure nobody’s looting what few items may be salvageable.

“We’ve got a fabulous neighborhood, a fabulous community, and that’s just really what we love about this whole thing,” David said.

The Nichols hope to be able to move back into their home of five years, but David said it may need to be taken down to the foundation and rebuilt, which will take at least eight months. The old cloth-jacket wiring in the 60-year-old structure may be to blame, according to the fire department.

The fire began just after Tabitha left the house to take their two dogs to the dog park. She said she was nearly there when she realized she’d forgotten something, so she drove back to the house, opened the back door, and watched their cat race out.

The Nichols are a blended family, and the morning of the fire, their children – Alexis, 12, Dylan, 11, Connor, 9, Logan, 8, Lucas, 7, and Tyler, 6 – were at the homes of their other parents. Tabitha said she can’t help but wonder what would have happened had the blaze, which began in Alexis’s room, started at night.

“That’s the scariest part, because if we were asleep, even if that alarm had gone off, by the time it started going off, (the fire) was already happening here,” Tabitha said.

David had been remodeling their home. He’d gutted the kitchen, redid wiring and windows, was getting ready to put in a new countertop and cabinets, but hadn’t yet gotten to Alexis’s room.

“Everybody lost something, definitely, but she literally lost everything,” Tabitha said.

“At this point we’ve accepted the loss,” David said. “The first couple of days we had no idea where we were going to go, what was going to happen. I still pull up and I want to go home. I still want to go in and watch TV.”

They spent last week bouncing between hotels, having to move out of one because it was booked up due to Keeneland’s fall meet.

“So that’s fun. Six kids, trying to pack everybody up and move and unpack,” Tabitha said. The day they met with the Sun, they had to wait several hours because of the difference between one hotel’s check-out time and another’s check-in time. They spent much of that day at his mother’s home.

“We were over there playing with the dogs, just letting (the children) run in the backyard and be kids. Watch movies, eat popsicles – just be kids,” Tabitha said. She said the children took well to hotel life, and like having a breakfast bar, where they can prepare their own food without having to wait for mom to cook for six.

They lost their home, but not their senses of humor. Tabitha smiled when she described what happened when they returned home that afternoon and the kids saw smoke detectors scattered around the lawn, with firefighters trying to break them to stop the beeping.

“They kind of laughed and they’re like, ‘Well, how did this happen if the smoke alarms went off? You test them every night when you make dinner,’” Tabitha said. David chuckled when he talked about his mother hosting their dogs and the cat, saying, “That may not last. She’s not exactly ecstatic about it.”

Meanwhile, the couple said their children have really pulled together.

“Their whole, ‘These are my toys’ – it happened the first night, but after watching their older brother and their older sister split a $20 bill and say, ‘You lost your room and the lady gave me this because our house burned down. I want to give you half of it. Let’s share this,’” he said.

“They’ve been a great support to one another,” Tabitha said.

“It’s just wonderful to watch them,” added David.

Tabitha and David grew up in Woodford County, graduating from Woodford County High School two years apart. These days, between looking after the kids and looking for a rental house, they’re spending a lot of time saying thank you to old friends and people they’d never met.

“I love this town. This is just one more reason why,” David said.

“We’re just overwhelmed with gratitude,” Tabitha said. They’ve received offers to help clean the house and for prayers, child care, pet food and coffee, some of them from people who lost their own homes to fires. “’Come have a cup of coffee and you can vent.’ Because there are a lot of emotions you can’t place. It feels like you’ve been violated and they’re just like, ‘We can’t offer you any money, but I can offer you my shoulder.’ What do you say, except, ‘Thank you,’” Tabitha said.

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