Fire victims receive help

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 29, 2003

The two families who lost their home to a blaze Monday night at Westhaven Meadows have a place to stay - for now.

"We had one three-bedroom available," said Lena Boswell, director of the Andalusia Housing Authority. "There are two other two-bedrooms, but they have been promised to other people."

Boswell said the apartments were not due to be occupied until January and one family, that of Sabrina Couch, will be able to occupy one of them for the time being. She said another apartment is supposed to come vacant before then, which means Couch will be able to stay in the complex, moving into the vacated one. She said LaToya Brown, with a larger family, will be moving into the three-bedroom unit.

According to Boswell, the Andalusia Fire Department investigator Ethan Dorsey told her the cause of the fire may have been electrical. At the scene of the fire, Boswell said one of the tenants in the duplex said she was using her hair dryer and heard a popping noise before the lights went out.

"Most of the damage is upward and around the meter box," said Boswell, who also said the wiring had been replaced in all the units four or five years ago.

All of the residents got out and none were hurt, but because the fire and smoke alarms were electric, they did not go off.

"It shorted out before the current ever got to the smoke alarm," said David Privett, the maintenance supervisor for the housing complex.

Between the fire, smoke and water damage, Boswell estimated the duplex a near-total loss, although she said the bricks were still good. Privett said that once the insurance is settled, they will be able to begin rebuilding, including all new wiring. The insurance, he said, was for the structure only and the two families did not have renter's insurance to cover their belongings.

Privett said this is the first time a fire on such a scale has occurred within the Andalusia Housing Authority domain.

"We've had some cooking fires. The fire department came, blew the smoke out and there was little damage," he said. "We had to repaint the kitchens and that was about it. This is the first time anything like this has happened."

The apartments are unfurnished, which means the two families will not only have to replace clothing, food, toiletries and other personal items, they will need furniture as well. Privett said that some furniture in the less-affected half of the duplex might be salvageable, but was badly damaged by smoke and water.

The Covington County Chapter of the American Red Cross provided disaster relief vouchers for food and clothing, as well as for a three-night stay in a hotel, and Boswell said there were other offers assistance, such as the one from the Christian Service Center. She said people have already been calling in, offering assistance.

"They did receive some vouchers," said Boswell. "But it won't be enough."

LaToya Brown has four children, three girls, ages 2, 3 and 7; and one boy, age 5. The girls wear sizes 3T, 4T and 7 while the boy wears size 5-6. Brown wears adult size 6.

Sabrina Couch has two girls. One wears size 7 and the other wears size 10 in pants and 12 in shirts. Couch wears extra-large and size 18.

Donations for the families of clothing, furniture and other household goods can be made at the Andalusia Housing Authority Office in Westhaven Meadows .