Friday night fire takes Belfast couple's home

Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Tribune photos by Clint Confehr Known for the benefit suppers he conducts, Johnny Ray Cole stands in front of his fire-gutted home on Sam Simpson Road.

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

BELFAST - A man who's known here for organizing fundraisers to benefit people in need lost his home Friday night when it was destroyed by fire.

"I hate to lose what I lost, but I'm thankful for what I've got," Johnny Ray Cole said a day later when he and Vonda Cole were staying at a motel with help from the Marshall County Red Cross.

"I'm thankful I didn't lose my wife."

Vonda was taking care of elderly people in Petersburg when the fire broke out, she said. Johnny, an equine dentist, was with coon hunters at the depot in Belfast where he organizes benefit raccoon hunts and community suppers. Recent events were for Logan Reynolds, John Porter and Thomas Poarch.

The fire started in a bedroom, Vonda said. The breaker box is there.

"We didn't have the central heat on," she said by phone from the Celebration Inn. "We use these [infrared light] heaters in the hall. Bedroom doors were closed."

She quotes a neighbor as saying he saw lights flickering like a power outage. He smelled something, went to investigate and found one end of the house in flames.

Another neighbor, Tony Hargrove, called 911 as Michael Self saved the Cole's six-pound Yorkie dog, Roscoe, after Self's brother, Curtis, kicked in the door.

Vonda's son, Jeramie (Bubba) Cherry, works at First Responders in Cornersville and called her about the fire.

"When I saw it, I just went all to pieces," Vonda said. "I've lived there 22 years."

Belfast, Five Points and Farmington-Rich Creek fire departments fought the blaze. Belfast Fire Chief Ricky Cazort was the incident commander. Emergency Management Agency's tanker brought water.

"They were all so good to me," Vonda said. "They put me in the fire truck, gave me a blanket and bottled water and kept checking on me."

The Sam Simpson Road fire was reported "little after 10 p.m.," Cazort said. "It's pretty well gutted. Johnny was able to salvage some personal items.

"The whole front was in flames when we got there," Cazort said.

The home's frame and green metal roof remain, he said. Firefighters worked until 1 a.m. Saturday. Belfast's trucks were back in the fire hall at 3 a.m.

Mildred's restaurant sent food.

"I thought they were going to bring me and my wife something, but they brought enough to feed the 82nd Airborne.

"The good Lord will take care of me," Johnny said while returning phone calls Saturday when friends, acquaintances and strangers delivered help. "A man just gave me a sack of clothes from Peebles and said Merry Christmas. They still have the tags on them. Another guy walked up and gave me $20. A man on Social Security shared what he could. They're my coon hunting buddies."

A man gave him a new coat.

"I've never been through something like this. You don't know if you want to cry or puke. It all happened so fast, it seemed like a nightmare."

Vonda, 57, and Johnny, 53, attend Mt. Moriah Baptist Church on Cornersville Highway.