LaQuita Green and her son, Jaylon Smith, 15, stand in their den the morning after a fire damaged their home on Forrest Boulevard Wednesday in Columbus. Jaylon and his grandmother were in the home when the fire started. Both made it out unharmed. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
March 13, 2017 10:22:49 AM
LaQuita Green was in Texas filling out an application for a new apartment when she learned her Columbus home was on fire.
"My son called me," Green said. "He called two or three times. ... He said, 'Mom, the house is on fire. Fire's all over the house.'"
The fire badly damaged the home Green rented on Forrest Boulevard, in east Columbus near Columbus High, where she had lived for more than a decade with her mother, Joann "JoJo" Green, and her 15-year-old son Jaylon Smith.
She had been planning to move her family from that house to a new home in Texas to be closer to other relatives for about a year.
"While I was there looking for apartments and stuff, my house was being burned down here," she said. "It was crazy."
A 'big hero'
Columbus Fire and Rescue personnel received the call about the fire at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, said CFR Public Information Officer Anthony Colom. He said he thinks the flames started in the kitchen where Green's mother was cooking at the time.
"We got a call that the house was engulfed," he said. "But really it wasn't. It was a fire in the kitchen area, smoke billowing out."
Smith had just gotten home from school when he saw smoke billowing in the back of the house. Green's mother, JoJo, is a stroke patient confined to a wheelchair, so Smith wheeled her outside through the closest door.
"He's a big hero," Green said. "He made sure she got out."
Once out of the house, Smith called 911. Then he called his mother to bear the bad news.
Green said her first thought was for her mother.
"I was thinking, it's hard for anybody to understand her, to get her out," Green said, getting tearful remembering it. "...My main thing was making sure she was OK."
After receiving her son's call, Green kept trying to call 911 herself from a different state, finally getting in touch with the Lowndes County Adult Detention Center where she learned first responders were already at the scene.
By that point, other friends were calling and sending her messages on Facebook.
"My phone started ringing, people letting me know, Facebook lighting up," Green said.
Firefighters battled the flames and smoke for the next hour or so, Colom said. All the while, Green was in Texas wondering what was going on.
"No one would respond," she said. "No one would pick up the phones anywhere I was calling. I couldn't get through to anybody, and I just didn't know what was going on in the house. And I'm so far away."
Green left Texas late Wednesday night and arrived back in Columbus the next morning. Friends and the house's owners met her at the scene of what had once been her home.
While the structure still stands, Colom said, the interior was badly burned, especially in the kitchen area where the fire started. Neither Green's family nor anyone else will be living in the house any time soon.
"I heard it was bad, but I didn't know it was that bad," Green said. "I thought I would be able to save some stuff."
She was able to salvage her bed frame and dresser, now in storage, and a handful of pictures of her two children -- Smith and an adult daughter who no longer lives with her.
"I wish I could have gotten all the pictures from when the kids were little," she said. "The memories, gone. (There was just) so much we did, baby pictures, important documents, birth certificates. But mostly I wish I could have gotten those pictures. I mean, I could accumulate the rest of that stuff, but I can never get the memories back."
Green and her family moved temporarily into a hotel before leaving town over the weekend to stay with relatives in Texas. She's extremely grateful to the fire department and to friends and family who have helped her out.
Several of her friends who attended Columbus High School with her have reached out to other friends to raise money for Green and her family.
"It could have been us that lost everything," one friend, Lakesha Hunter, said. "And it's such a tragedy when you leave home and you come back and everything's gone."
Hunter and several other friends are hoping to plan a fundraiser for Green, although they're now mostly sticking to reaching out to friends on Facebook. In the meantime, Green is going through with her plans to move her family to Texas.
"I'm blessed," Green said. "I'm more blessed than anything, because I can't replace my mom or child. I can buy paint, I can buy thread, clothes, materials ... I can do all of that, but I can't get my family back.
"And I wasn't there," she added. "That's the hardest part. I wasn't there."
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