Rice Avenue Fire Leaves Sheridan Father Homeless But Alive
From the outside, 100 Rice Avenue is a place that most wouldn’t give a second glance.
If one were to walk inside, however, they would learn a different story.
They would find a home marked by the extremes of life. They would find family photos stained by smoke, a tablecloth singed by flame, and other trinkets of a tight-knit family scattered about the house— a vault of memories now choked in layers of ash and soot.
The fire left the structure standing, but that doesn’t mean that nothing was taken.
“Sentimental stuff you just can’t get back,” said Stephanie Handley, one of the daughters.
The family had lived in the house for five years.
Beyond their personal belongings, the Handleys lost a sense of security. The daughters both said that they had heard stories from house fires before, but never thought it would happen to them.
The fire began on the morning of Jan. 7 after Jerry Handley came home alone from working in the coal mine. He decided to deep fry some fish sticks and put some cookies in the oven. He went to the bedroom to lay down for a moment and ended up falling asleep. He woke up after he started coughing.
“I thought it was just my chest cold,” Jerry said. “I hadn’t opened up my eyes or nothing, and it just kept getting worse and worse and more intense. When I opened up my eyes, everything was just full of smoke.”
Jerry saw that the smoke was heaviest toward the top of the room and nearly absent toward the bottom, but his rheumatoid arthritis prevented him from crawling on the floor.
“I can’t bend down that low,” Jerry said. “I wouldn’t have made it out. At this point I couldn’t see anything, and I was hearing the crackling and the popping, and I thought, ‘maybe I could get to the kitchen to see what the hell’s going on.’ It just got too hot, too intense. I was out of air. I felt my way back to the back door and got out.”
The walls inside the house have handprints smeared against their blackened surfaces, evidence of Jerry’s attempts to escape. When he finally found his way out, he was in no condition to stay outside in the January weather.
“I was even down in my underwear,” Jerry said. “I didn’t have time to get dressed or nothing, it was just that quick.”
A passerby saw Jerry screaming for help and called emergency services. The fire department responded quickly, but a fair amount of interior damage had already been done.
Hours later, while the damage from the first fire was being assessed, the Handley daughters noticed a crackling sound. A second fire was starting above them.
Between both fires, the house is unlivable and requires extensive interior repair. In the meantime, Jerry has been forced to live in hotel rooms, carrying everything he needs in a duffel bag.
“They said by the time we get everything gutted out and ripped out, it’s going to be three to six months,” Jerry said. “I’m currently staying at the Candlewood Suites there for now until insurance can find me a little more permanent living situation. I’m still trying to work and get everything as normal as possible.”
A few people have already offered to help the Handleys, but Jerry is still unsure of what he and his family will encounter in the next several months.
“Everything’s so new and fresh at this point that I just don’t know,” Jerry said.
Jerry has appreciated all of the support he’s received, however.
“Whatever the community does…I appreciate anything that anybody does,” Jerry said. “The fire department. Everybody.”
The upcoming months will be hard for the Handleys, but Jerry’s confident in his family’s ability to overcome adversity.
“We’re a team,” Jerry said. “We’ve just been going at it.”
Lauren Handley, Jerry’s ex-wife, pointed out a painting on the wall depicting a man praying. It was the only surviving picture in the house. Lauren said that its survival meant something significant to her.
Her ex-husband almost died, yet, something kept him alive. While the fire destroyed a place filled with memories, a chance for new memories escaped the flames.
“He did manage to get out, and that’s what we’re grateful for,” Lauren said.
Follow this link to donate to Jerry’s GoFundMe page.