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After devastating fire, starting over from scratch

It was a warm day in January when life as Jane Edmunds knew it changed forever. Departing from her River Road residence known as “Creekside,” Edmunds joined a friend for a day of shopping in Danville.

A couple hours had passed when Edmunds received a phone call from her security system alerting her that several fire alarms were going off in her home.

“I called my daughter to go check on it,” said Edmunds.

When her daughter arrived, she discovered the historic home completely engulfed in flames.

“Within two hours it burned up. Twenty three fire trucks couldn’t stop it,” said Edmunds.

Her first thought when she saw her home going up in flames, “Thank God I wasn’t in it.” 

Stoically, after watching all her belongings burn within a matter of hours, she sent a friend to Walmart to purchase underwear, toothbrush and a hairbrush.

“When you don’t even have a toothbrush, you don’t have anything,” said Edmunds.

“I had to start from scratch. It’s remarkable how little you can do with. Now I only buy what I need. Everything I replaced is useful,” she added.

Edmunds had been living in Creekside since 1991 when her husband passed away.

On that fateful January afternoon while watching firefighters fight the flames and black smoke to save what they could, Edmunds said she requested Sheriff Fred Clark ask all emergency personnel stop their efforts and send them home.

“I didn’t want anyone to get hurt.”

During the weeks following the historic fire, three different teams of local, state and insurance investigators tried to determine the cause. And each of the teams found nothing.

“I just want to know what happened,” said Edmunds almost one year later.

She now resides in a three-room cabin on the farm of her son, Delegate James Edmunds II.

Immediately after the fire, Edmunds said she lived in her car and stayed in her son’s guest room until she finally moved into the cabin. She admits the three- room cabin was a big adjustment compared to spacious Creekside which had four bedrooms and two baths upstairs, and two living rooms, a library, another bathroom, TV room and a kitchen downstairs.

“I’ve never lived anywhere so small,” added Edmunds.

“Surprisingly, I am enjoying it. I now call it my winter palace,” she added.

She has no plans of rebuilding.

After authorities released her to go back into Creekside after the fire, she went through the rubble hoping to find anything worth keeping.

Unfortunately, the only thing the homeowner was able to save from the rubble were the clothes on her back, a jacket that was in her car and some place settings and silverware she described as being covered in the “crud” from the fire.

On the day of the demolition, the bulldozer came through, and Edmunds watched as pages of her books from the downstairs library fell like leaves in the fall. 

“I almost cried,” said Edmunds.

A gentleman approached Edmunds and told her she should “hold on to this” as he handed her a black notebook.

“In the notebook, I found a correspondence with a friend from 1956. I was amazed that it had survived out of everything,” said Edmunds.

The demolition of the home was very strange for Edmunds, but then she added, it was no more strange than being able to see the ruins and sky through the roof.

She gave away bricks from the home to some friends, arch elements and trim to the Thomas Day Museum that have been refinished and are now ready to showcase.

Her home was looted after the fire on several occasions with culprits taking flooring items, porcelains, copper piping and other items.

“It was still a feeling of violation,” said Edmunds.

So many items in “Creekside” were irreplaceable, according to Edmunds, including family heirlooms and pictures. 

If she could have one thing back, she said she would want her mother’s needlework.

Edmunds said she finds herself looking around different places and is surprised when she sees things that survived the fire because she had already given them away before that January day.

“It gives me a happy feeling. I just think, ‘Oh you’re here, I thought you had burned up,’” said Edmunds.

“Almost every day I remember something that I lost,” she added.

Edmunds admits she is left now with a fear she has never had before in her entire life, the fear of fire. The thought never occurred to her before, but now she doesn’t like to be on the second floor or under anything that can burn.

“I have an exit for everything,” said Edmunds.

Her family has been shocked at how well she has handled the situation over the past year. 

Edmunds said before the fire she was trying to organize her will, and “it was just driving me crazy” on how to divide things equally. 

“Suddenly I was relieved of that burden,” said Edmunds.

After losing her home to fire, the River Road resident suggests homeowners take the advice of getting replacement coverage, using the cloud to upload pictures and documents and to take a picture of each room in the house, so if something were to happen, the homeowner would know everything that existed in that room.

Although she’s still adjusting to the changes in her life, Edmunds said she is trying to look at things in a positive manner.

“I just think of it as I had an estate sale, and it just didn’t go that well,” Edmunds concluded.