BRISTOL HERALD COURIER
KONNAROCK, Va. – Denise Barr looked at a string of paw prints in the snow, leading to her burned-down trailer at the foot of Mount Rogers – “God’s country,” as she calls it.
The prints belonged to Smokey Joe, a 5-month-old puppy. After the Monday evening fire, they found him curled up dead in the corner of her granddaughters’ bedroom.
“They said he must have inhaled the smoke,” Barr said. “He just went to sleep and didn’t wake up.”
The Barrs lost everything else, too. Fire gutted the trailer about 8 p.m. Monday and everything it didn’t consume was destroyed by smoke and water.
Barr has custody of her three granddaughters, ages 11, 13 and 17.
On Tuesday afternoon, she still wore her Food City uniform – she was working Monday night when a relative called and said her trailer was burning down.
Her son’s girlfriend was there alone with her 3-year-old son. She was asleep in the living room when she heard the smoke alarm, Barr said. She went into the adjacent bedroom, saw the bed on fire and tried to drag the flaming mattress out of the trailer.
“It’s not her fault,” Barr said. “I probably would have done the same thing.”
Everyone got out safely.
Barr said the cause of the fire was undetermined. The volunteer fire department couldn’t be reached Tuesday evening.
Food City is an hour from the trailer, down a long, pitted driveway that trapped a fire truck on its way, Barr said.
By the time she got home, the fire was mostly out but smoke still poured from the windows.
“I was able to save my daddy’s Bible,” she said. “That’s about it.”
She hid Smokey Joe’s body behind a tree stump away from the house. She plans to bury him later.
“Where is he?” asked 17-year-old Brittany Barr, on the girl’s first trip back to the trailer Tuesday.
“You don’t need to see him,” her grandmother replied.
As the girls dug through the snow and rubble, their hands turned black from the ash.
“Grammy, my diary!” one exclaimed, turning charred pages. “Can I keep it?”
“You can try,” her grandmother said.
Their trophies crumbled when they picked them up. The pictures left were curled and black. A Future Farmers of America jacket was reduced to just its patches.
“I’m looking for the doll my stepdad gave me,” 13-year-old Tori Barr said. “He died of cancer. It’s the only thing I have from him.”
She found one porcelain leg.
Denise Barr’s husband died in a rifle accident in 1995, she said.
“Every picture I had of him is gone,” she said. “Everybody says – you still have the memories. And that’s true. But to be able to sit there and look at something that belonged to them – you just really don’t know what that means until it’s gone.”
The trailer sits on a two-acre piece of land her daughter owns, Barr said. There’s a mountain to one side and a wide creek to the other, and Sundance, their horse, wanders around in between.
Barr doesn’t know if she’ll get a new trailer and put it in the same spot, or if they’ll move altogether, she said. She doesn’t know how she’ll afford either.
The American Red Cross gave her $500 for clothes and shoes. She called state agencies and local organizations, but no housing funds are available, she said. They told her to try back after the first of the year. In the meantime, they’ll stay with her daughter in Abingdon.
On Tuesday afternoon, the girls loaded everything they could save into one garbage bag and, worried they wouldn’t be back for awhile, dragged hay into the yard for the horse.
Brittany Barr found Smokey Joe behind the tree stump.
“He looks pitiful,” she said to her grandmother. “I don’t want to leave him.”
Denise Barr put her arm around her.
“We’ll come back for him, honey.”