As they drove northwest toward their home of the past three years, Kathi Edmonson and her daughter, Paige, dreaded what they might find.
They had been in Corsicana with their two dogs visiting Kathi’s father, who days earlier had invited them out for a “big brisket” dinner his friend would prepare. After going to sleep that Saturday night, they were awoken around 4 the next morning by repeated phone calls and Facebook messages from fire officials, telling them their family home in Lakeside was burning. They waited until 8 a.m., when Kathi’s father was up, and set out on the roughly two-hour drive.
The damage had already been described to them as “a total loss,” they said. So, spotting exit signs along the highway for Oklahoma one way and Louisiana another, they said they briefly considered taking one, in no rush to learn what exactly a total loss meant.
When they finally pulled up to their home, it became clear — the house was reduced to black and charred wood, with massive holes in the roof and no more garage. Kathi’s 2017 Chevy Equinox, less than 30 days old with the dealer tags still on the back, was warped into tan and rusted metal, she said. Entire walls had vanished.
Paige, 25, stood still, shocked. Kathi, 50, wept.
“I don’t know that I had a visual picture in my head of what that would look like until I pulled up and actually saw it,” Kathi said. “It was devastating. I mean, when I got out of the car, I just kind of lost it.”
“Everything I owned for 25 years is inside that house,” Paige added. “Things that can’t be replaced.”
Lakeside police have said the suspected cause of the fire was arson. Police told Kathi preliminary reports indicated a person who was being chased by a group of people had sought refuge in the home, she said, which is when the others lit the house on fire in an attempt to get him out.
But Lakeside Police Chief Lee Pitts said “there are many points in this story that are suspicious and we are attempting to confirm the details.” Kathi — who never got renters insurance on the home — isn’t a suspect, Pitts said.
One arrest has been made, he said, but it was not for the arson.
“We have used social media to try and contact anyone that may have witnessed any activity in that neighborhood immediately before and after the arson,” Pitts said. “We plan on canvassing the neighborhood once we get replies from social media.”
Although Kathi and Paige count themselves lucky, because neither they nor their dogs were home during the blaze, they’ve been asking themselves why this seemingly bizarre incident ended in a fire at their home in an otherwise quiet community.
They’ve also had to mourn what they’ve lost.
Of course, the pair lost everyday items such as their clothes, toiletries, pots and pans. But then there were sentimental items — the hordes of childhood photos of Paige and her older brother kept in boxes, binders and frames. The old pictures — of horses, rodeos, flowers — Paige and her older brother drew as children.
Paige said the dresser in her room, built by her grandfather, was destroyed. She also lost China plates that had been handed down to her from her great-grandmother.
“It was her grandmother’s China, so I mean it’s six generations old China,” Paige said. “There’s no replacing it.”
This week, the mother and daughter have been staying with friends and family as they’ve gone back to the house to sift through remains, trying to salvage what they can. Their dogs have been with a friend in Fort Worth.
Amid all this, Kathi and Paige have also had to contemplate their new lives.
“It’s been a day-to-day, where-to-go-next kind of phase,” Kathi said.
‘A very small, very quiet neighborhood’
Kathi and Paige came to know their home, which was walking distance to Lake Worth, as their place of serenity.
They moved into the quaint town of around 1,300 people in 2016, after Kathi’s boyfriend died. The two had been living with him in Arlington, and liked the idea of returning to a lake community Kathi, her ex-husband and their two kids would visit often when they lived in the Fort Worth area some 20 years ago.
Back then, they had a ski boat they would haul out to take on the water. Living there, they said, was a new experience.
They liked how they could stand on the front porch of their house on Larch Street and see the water. They liked being able to walk down to the lake carrying their floaties for a swim.
“That’s my serenity place,” Kathi said. “This is a very small, very quiet neighborhood. Nothing happens here.”
They lived in the home with their two dogs, a Labrador and a dachshund-whippet-mix. They said they knew some of their neighbors, almost all of them elderly, but most people kept to themselves.
In the days since the fire, however, they’ve heard from more and more neighbors.
“They’ve all come up,” Paige said. “Every single neighbor.”
“They introduced themselves,” Kathi added.
Outpouring of support
Their neighbors have expressed to them their shock that this could happen, and their sympathy. They have offered silverware and furniture they don’t need. One day, as Kathi and Paige searched through the rubble, a neighbor said they could take a break in their air conditioning.
Lindsey Heath, who’s married to Kathi’s nephew, also started a Facebook fundraiser to help with the costs that will come with starting over. The page had raised $1,960 of a $6,000 goal as of Friday morning.
“I knew that they didn’t have very much money and I knew that they didn’t have renters insurance, and I felt like me cleaning up the house wasn’t enough,” Heath said. “I felt like I needed to do more.”
Kathi said she’s not typically comfortable asking for help, so this has been tough to swallow. But she and Paige said they’re grateful for any assistance they can get.
Both have been allowed time off from work this week as they’ve had to regroup. They’re each speech therapists — Kathi at Head Start in Fort Worth, and Paige as a home health aide — and Paige also babysits as well as works at Billy Bob’s Texas.
They’ve had to call on different people this week for a place to stay, from Kathi’s son’s girlfriend, to her ex-husband who lives in their old home.
“We’ve just kind of been coach-surfing,” Kathi said on Thursday. “Where we sleep tonight — I’m not sure yet.”
Long road ahead
The shock is still there about a week later, Kathi and Paige said, but they’ve been trying to move on. They said they’ve had no other choice.
Paige has used humor to cope. She has joked, for instance, about the fact they took her car to Corsicana instead of her mother’s new car, not wanting to get dog hairs on the upholstery.
They left the car safely inside a garage that burned down.
“You either laugh or you cry,” Paige said. “And I’m tired of crying.”
They’ve taken some solace in what they’ve been able to save, including a folded-up American flag from her late ex-boyfriend who was in the Army. It had been encased in glass that protected it.
They also still have years of ornaments for Christmas — their favorite holiday — which were in a closet and only sustained superficial smoke damage.
They would like to put these items in a new home in the Lakeside community someday, if they can.
“We want to try and stay over here. That’s our hope,” Kathi said. “But I don’t know yet.”