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Family raises funds for displaced mom

Forty-seven years of memories went up in flames almost two weeks ago on a quiet road in the Forest Home community.

Homeowner Inella Lewis, 82, watched as flames swallowed her home at 129 Forest Home Lane–a home she had built for her and her nine children beginning in 1969.

Other residents of the home included a niece, Tomeka Toles, and her two sons, Myles (11) and Tyler (10).  One silver lining to the misfortune is that no one was home at the time of the blaze; the children were at school, and Lewis herself was at a doctor’s appointment.

Yet eventually, there were plenty of witnesses to the horrifying scene, including John E. Lewis, Inella’s son.

“Seven of my siblings were on the ground when it took place, and the other two were away,” he said. “So we got a chance to see our memories burnt.

“I actually thought it was kind of numbing.  It wasn’t even close to reality.  It was just unreal.”

Wynell Clark, John’s older sister, was 12 years old when she moved into the home she watched burn to the ground that day. 

She also vividly remembers how difficult things were for the family before. She called their previous home a “shack built off into the woods,” unfit for anyone to live it, let alone a single mother and her children.

Clark said that watching it be slowly and irrevocably destroyed made her feel “emotional” and “helpless.”

“It took my mind back some years to when I was a child running through that house,” Clark said.  “We were so happy when we moved into that house…something that would be very secure and warm.  It was like Christmas.”

For Velda Simpson, John and Wynell’s younger sister, the burned home was the only one she had ever known.  But it was more than just her home.

“I was born there, with the help of a midwife,” Simpson said.

“That’s all I knew.  My mom worked at Union Camp [paper mill] for 35 years to pay for that house.”

The house fire has exacted an emotional and a financial toll on the family.

The home’s 47-year-old insurance policy proved insufficient to put Inella Lewis in a permanent new home, or even a temporary one.

“She’d been with her insurance company for 47 years with her premium increasing,” Simpson said, “but they never changed her policy.

“I’m with a major insurance company,” John Lewis added, “and they call me yearly to go over what’s in the home and whether it needs to be increased or whatever the case may be.

“With this, at 47 years and never having a conversation with anyone, it’s depressing.”

The family did offer thanks to Butler County EMA director Kris Ware, who put the family in contact with the Red Cross shortly after the house fire.

“The Red Cross did step in that evening,” Lewis said.  “They got us a gift card to get personal things and food.  It was around $150 per person, which was just enough to help in a time of need.”

The siblings have started GoFundMe campaign has been started to help their displaced mother.

As of Tuesday morning, 66 people have raised $6,265 of the family’s $200,000 goal.

Family members said they’ve been stunned by the response, both from friends and complete strangers.

“People with a giving heart are just reaching out,” Clark said. “And it’s just amazing that people we don’t even know are reaching out and trying to help.”

Those interested in donating can visit gofundme.com/help-us-rebuild-our-moms-home.  Donations can also be sent to 129 Forest Home Lane, Greenville, AL 36037.