‘I’ve lost everything’: Johnson County families wait for the smoke to clear after Thursday fire

Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 8:14 AM EDT
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THELMA, Ky. (WYMT) - A fire in the Thelma community of Johnson County left more than 12 families without a place to call home.

“I have lost everything. I had my son and my granddaughter living with me. Luckily I got them out and got myself out, but it’s bad,” said tenant Dianna Bunker. “I mean when you lose personal belongings that belonged to your late mother? Yeah, it’s bad.”

When the fire broke out in the early morning hours, a neighbor called 911 before going around to the apartment complex to alert the tenants. Once firefighters were on the scene, they helped in the efforts to evacuate the building before getting to work to put out the flames.

Thelma Fire Department Deputy Chief Thomas Rice said the fire was contained to 12 units, leaving many more with water and smoke damage.

Justine Templeton said she was out when the fire began and received a call from a neighbor, telling her to get home.

“I rushed home ‘cause my son was in bed asleep. And that’s the first thing I thought, you know, ‘get my son out.’ And they got him out. He’s okay,” said Templeton.

She lived in the apartment for more than five years with her son who has Asberger syndrome. She said many of his pets were lost to the flames and he is not taking the situation well.

Now, she just hopes for a little peace of mind as they work to rebuild their lives in a new place.

“It just really tears me up because nothing like this has ever happened to me,” she said. “I’ve lost everything.”

Main Street in Thelma was closed for more than seven hours as several departments responded to the call, working to battle the blaze. By 2 p.m. most of the fire departments cleared the scene as the road re-opened.

No injuries were reported, but families say several pets died in the fire.

According to Rice, the situation could have been a lot worse were it not for the quick thinking and actions of the people involved- especially since the fire began at such an early hour.

“A lot of people were asleep. We’re lucky neighbors stepped in, beat on doors, woke people up. Firefighters beat on doors, woke people up, got people out,” he said. “Lucky we didn’t have any fatalities in this fire. It could’ve been a whole lot worse.”

He said the multi-agency effort of the surrounding fire departments was also a huge help. Thelma, West Van Lear, Paintsville, Prestonsburg, W.R. Castle, and other crews worked for hours to get the flames under control.

“It’s really important to try to make it as quick as you can. Try to do the most you can to contain the fire, because where multiple people live in a multi-family dwelling like this, you’re going to have a lot affected. A lot of people displaced,” he said.

Officials with the American Red Cross tell WYMT they have been notified and will assist the families displaced by the fire. According to a Facebook post from the Thelma Fire Department, the department and Mountain Outlet in Paintsville will accept donations for the families impacted. The specifics of those donations are listed here.

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