LaGRANGE — The day started off normal enough for Sue Harris Vaughan, except for a mysterious, uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach.
She went to church, came home to her Valley Ridge apartment unit around 12:30 p.m. and had just settled in to eat lunch and watch a movie when she heard loud banging just outside her front door.
“At first I thought it was kids, but I opened the door and he (neighbor Kevin Facille) was hollering, ‘Fire!’ His face was white from running up and down the apartment stairs.”
Vaughan and many other tenants credit Facille for saving their lives on the afternoon of Sept. 20 when their building at the Valley Ridge apartment complex caught fire around 1 p.m. According to Vaughan, the man saw the flames and smoke and knocked on every door to get all the tenants out before the fire could spread. Amazingly, no one was seriously hurt in the blaze.
“I called 911,” Vaughan said. “I came back in here, grabbed a bag, some personal papers, shoes … when I got outside I could see all the smoke and flames shooting out the back of the building. When I got to the sidewalk, I fell off the curb and twisted my ankle … and then I just lost it.”
Vaughan said for hours she and some of her neighbors huddled under a tree, holding hands, crying, praying and helplessly watching as LaGrange firefighters worked feverishly to snuff out the blaze that was destroying their homes.
“You never think it will happen to you, and it did,” Vaughan explained. “You’re lost … and you’re broken. You don’t know if they (firefighters) are going to be able to save the building … You don’t know if you’re going to lose everything … So you just sit there and hold hands with your neighbors. You cry and you pray.”
Vaughan was fortunate. Her apartment was on the bottom floor, furthest away from the fire, and only sustained some smoke damage.
Sadly, some of her friends were not so lucky. Four units in the building were completely destroyed; folks in those apartments lost almost everything they owned. Other tenants’ homes had water and heavy smoke damage.
Since the fire, Vaughan and many of her neighbors had been staying in motels. They received word earlier this week that because of all the devastation, the fire marshal and apartment complex managers deemed it best that everyone move out of the building until it can be renovated and brought back up to code.
Some folks will move to other apartments on the property, Vaughan has opted to move in with friends until, as she said, she can “come back home.”
As she packed up the last of her belongings on Thursday and glanced around her apartment, Vaughan said she felt a twinge of sadness but believed the fire that raged through her building on Sunday ultimately had a greater purpose than destroying lives.
“You become one big family after something like this happens,” she explained. “My neighbors and I actually talk now, instead of just in passing. I have their numbers, and I call them every day to check up on them … It brings you closer together as a community. The people in this building are my family.”
Vaughan said the one thing the flames did not destroy was hope — and dreams of a bright future.
“I’m not going to take life for granted,” she said. “I’ve got a home to come back to and we (tenants) were all okay, and that was the main thing. I’ve got some good friends, family and neighbors. I’m lucky and very, very blessed.”
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter at LaGrange Daily News. She may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.