Fire destroys house, but not spirit of local family

Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Heat from the Cochran family's house fire melted a child's plastic tricycle.

A little more than a week after their two-story house burned to the ground, a Marshall County couple is living in a travel trailer made available to them by a Bedford County friend of their grandsons.

Mamie Cochran is convinced the cause of the fire was electrical because a Star of David decoration -- usually only lit at Christmas time -- was glowing as volunteer firefighters battled the blaze on Belfast Farmington Road that Monday morning of March 21.

Mamie and her daughter, Pamper, see it as a sign that someone was watching over the family. Indeed, help has arrived, but the need is greater. Yard sales and a benefit concert are planned.

It was the second day of spring when the fire burned so hot, but bitter cold weather has set in and the thermostat that starts a heater in her temporary home startles Mamie. She explains what happened as her husband, Levi, had to take care of paperwork for his bail bonding business at the courthouse.

"I laid down late Sunday about 9 p.m.," she began. "Levi stayed up to watch the news.

"I don't know what woke me up, but it was 11:30. From my bedroom, I could see a light in the living room. 'My God, he's still awake,'" she recalls telling herself. "I just turned over, took a deep breath and smelled the smoke."

The Cochrans sleep in separate rooms.

"I snore too much," she explained.

"He was in the back bedroom. I made it through the living room that had curtains that we could close off when it's cold. They were on fire. I thought I could get it down and save it, but the whole room was red like a burning inferno.

"From the middle of that room, I made it to the front porch. I was screaming to the top of my lungs, 'Wake up. Get out. The house is on fire."

She went around the outside of the house, beating on the walls, screaming. She went to her daughter's home on the family farm, yelling for her to wake up because of the fire.

"By that time, my son and his wife (Tina and Jan Cochran) woke up to my screaming," she said, putting the time at about midnight. "They wanted to know if we'd called anyone, but all I could do was yell, 'I can't get him out.'"

Then, she saw Levi standing with the light on in his room. There was no smoke in that part of the house.

"He could see that he couldn't get out the front, so he got the puppy (Pookie Bear), grabbed his fiddle and went out the back door."

Levi collected fiddles. He saved one.

Pamper called 9-1-1 just after midnight, she said. Farmington-Rich Creek and Berlin Fire Departments responded with men and trucks. Chapel Hill joined the fight against the blaze. So did some firefighters from Ostella.

Mamie says Pamper kept her head, asking if everybody had car keys so they could get the vehicles out of the way before the fire trucks arrived.

"When we got the last vehicle out of the way, flames were just rolling out of the porch."

The travel trailer that's home for Mamie and Levi now was made available by an anonymous donor who spoke with their grandsons, Matt and David Wilson, Mamie said. Help has come from various churches, neighbors and friends - "Too many to name," she said.

The Cochrans' didn't have fire insurance on the house, Mamie said. The policy was cancelled when the underwriter realized they were heating with wood. "They called it 'Too great a risk to insure,'" she said.

Pamper said her mother has such an independent spirit that she told the Red Cross representative that they'd make it, so she shooed the man away. "I had to call the man back." Then, the daughter "reluctantly drug her to the bank." An account has been established at First Commerce Bank, they said.

Firefighters worked until about dawn at the house between Phillips and Long Distance roads.

"All of us are thankful that our parents are alive," daughter Pamper said.

Mamie said, "If I hadn't woke up, we wouldn't be here. I know in my heart He was there. The star was lit (in the upstairs window) but it did not show up in any of the pictures."