Weeks after a 'terrifying' house fire, a Johnson City family hopes to rebuild in a city they call 'home'

Jonathan Roberts • Jul 28, 2019 at 12:00 AM

After escaping a devastating early morning fire that swept through her family’s home earlier this month, Woodland Elementary School teacher Tiffany Collins could only think about one thing: everything she had worked for just went up in flames.

Standing safely outside with two family members — one of whom is getting ready to attend college — and her two pets, Collins was devastated, but, by the end of the day, that devastation gave way to feelings of thankfulness, humbleness and gratefulness.

“We’re just humbled and blessed we’re alive, but we have moments where we’re sad, we’ll think about something that we lost in the fire and that makes us sad,” Collins said, noting they’ve tried to avoid thinking of what they’ve lost.

“We really haven’t thought too much about all the materialistic things in the house; we’ve really just been focusing on the amount of love and support we’ve gotten from friends, family and the community,” she continued, describing the emotions as a “rollercoaster.”

According to the Johnson City Fire Department, they received a 911 call for a house fire just after 4:30 a.m. on July 15, with the first units arriving at the East Myrtle Street address within five minutes. Still, JCFD’s report noted in their report that “Engine 1 and Engine 4 were unable to gain full control of the fire due to a lack of water,” and that the fire had “significant extension into the attic” by the time they arrived. Estimated damages to the house and belongings totaled $155,000, and firefighters didn’t clear the area until 1:51 p.m.

Collins was the one who called 911, but she doesn’t remember much of the initial realization that her house was ablaze.

“It was terrifying,” she said. “Honestly I can’t even think — the adrenaline just kicked in and you realize it’s really a life-or-death situation. Your heart starts pumping and you’re just trying to stay alive.”

“It could have easily went in the other direction, that’s why we’re so thankful we got everyone and our animals out alive,” Collins said. “The cards were definitely in our favor.”

A cause for the fire has yet to be determined.

Despite the loss, Collins said that her family has been humbled by the support from the community, and became emotional as she recalled the dozens of people who came to offer support and help the day of the fire.

“Just knowing that there are people out there that love and care for you is immeasurable,” she said.

Efforts by the community to help the family haven't gone unnoticed, with Collins saying it “helps tremendously,” and that she was “actually speechless” to see a GoFundMe set up for the family raise more than $18,000 — more than triple the fundraiser’s initial goal of $5,000.

“This is my forever home,” Collins said of Johnson City. “Just how everyone banded together when someone was in need, you can’t ask for any more from a community or a city.”

Though they’re currently living in an RV in Bristol, they’re planning on returning to a Johnson City apartment in the coming weeks, with plans to go house hunting in the coming months, which Collins described as “by far the hardest part.”

The family isn’t planning on rebuilding the house destroyed by the fire.

Aside from being pet-friendly, the one thing the family is looking for in a home is something a bit less flammable.

“We have been looking (at) houses, and we’ve been kind of gearing towards brick houses,” Collins said with a laugh. “That’s just one thing that’s gone through our head, ‘probably don’t want a wood house,’ but other than that, we’re just taking it day by day.”