Condo fire victims mourn loss of pets
By Tyler Stocks
Tuesday, August 13, 2019
Driving up and seeing your house on fire is traumatic enough, but seeing your companion animals lying motionless outside on the ground is even more agonizing.
For Denise Handlon, this was her reality on Friday after a fire ripped through her condo complex, displacing 14 residents, and killing six pets, three of which were hers.
"When I saw all of the animals on the ground laying next to each other, I was in shock," Handlon said. "I just bawled. I just bawled like a baby."
Firefighters were dispatched to a condo at 535 Spring Forest Road around 3:30 p.m. When crews arrived, Handlon's condo along with her neighbor's, were fully engulfed.
Combating the fire was complicated because flames got into gas lines that served the units, Greenville Fire-Rescue spokeswoman Rebekah Thurston said.
It appears the fire started outside the building and spread to nearby gas meters, said Steve Hawley, Greenville Utilities Commission public information officer.
Fire-Rescue Chief Eric Griffin said the fire started in the mulch of a flower bed.
Griffin added that some pets were rescued from the complex and a man was rescued from a balcony.
The fire has been ruled accidental due to misuse of smoking materials, Griffin said.
Handlon came home sometime after 7 p.m. and her boyfriend broke the news to her that their beloved female Cocker-Spaniel-Lab, Beauty, gray tabby cat, Tom, and female black and white cat, Raisin, were dead.
The couple's little black cat, Taz, managed to survive after he was given CPR and was rushed to a veterinary hospital in Wilson. Taz spent the weekend in Wilson and is with Handlon, who is staying at a hotel.
"Taz is a little black cat that is quite a survivor," Handlon said.
Handlon's voice broke as she began to describe Beauty, Raisin and Tom.
"Beauty had the sweetest heart. She had the sweetest disposition. She went into the bedroom and laid down next to the bed. That's where she was found," Handlon said.
Handlon said she will always remember how Raisin was like her alarm clock.
"She would come up and tap her paw on my cheek and wake me up in the morning at 5:30 like clockwork. She was so sweet," Handlon said.
Tom was very regal and did his own thing.
"He would prowl around and he loved being outside," Handlon said. "He would be so affectionate when he came in at night and we would just cuddle."
Michelle Williams is suffering similar grief as she lost her three cats in the fire.
Williams was sitting at her dining room table taking care of Gracie, a 12-year-old Norwegian Forest who had just gotten home after receiving chemotherapy treatments.
“I heard some popping and crackling and I got up. Then I heard some banging at the door and they said, "Get out, it’s a fire,'” Williams said.
She ran to her spare bedroom where her cats Apple, a Maine coon, and Franklin, a black tabby, were hiding. Williams said when she couldn’t find them so she went to her bedroom where Gracie had fled but couldn’t find her.
Williams said she closed the door and made another attempt to get the other cats and some of her belongings.
“I went back to collect my things but I couldn’t get through because the flames had broken through the window,” she said.
Williams also had two lovebirds in a cage. A friend got the cage and the birds outside of the condo.
On Saturday, Williams was able to retrieve Apple and Franklin but could not find Gracie.
Even though she is without a home and clothes, her mission is to find Gracie and have her cremated.
"I want to make sure I get her out because that's important for me and my closure," Williams said.
Losing her cats has been painful and Williams said she is taking things about as well as can be expected.
"It's a minute-by-minute situation," she said. "There's lots of tears, lots of fear, there's lots of I don't knows right now. I don't have any direction right now."
Her other concern is finding a place to sleep.
"For right now, I'm just trying to find out where I'm going to lay my head the next night. I've been in a hotel thanks to the Red Cross," Williams said.
Handlon said her life will never be the same.
"Life truly changes in a flash of an instant. In one flash, we lost three healthy pets," Handlon said
"Beauty belonged to my nephew Jeremiah and he went off to college and I've been taking care of it while he's in college," she said. "That was one of the hardest things I had to do was to call this young boy and tell him that his beloved dog was gone."
Daily Reflector reporter Ginger Livingston contributed to this story.