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Trailer fire takes away precious possessions but not the resolve of Oak Harbor woman
When her 22-year marriage ended in divorce, Sherry McWherter admits she struggled to get over it.
But after years of being down, things were starting to look up.
McWherter moved into an Oak Harbor mobile home in December, gifted to her by her daughter and son-in-law. With her antique oak furniture and oil paintings, and a new tile floor and appliances installed by her son-in-law, the interior looked great, according to her daughter Amanda Glaspie.
“It’s just a trailer,” Glaspie said, “but she had million dollar things inside.”
In a cruel twist, McWherter lost the trailer and nearly all of those items in an electrical fire April 25.
And now she’s picking up the pieces of her life again.
The fire destroyed enough of the structure at the trailer park on Oak Harbor Road for it to be considered a total loss, with damages estimated at $46,000, according to fire chief Ray Merrill with the Oak Harbor Fire Department.
Knowing that the mobile home was uninsured made the experience for McWherter that much more horrific.
“I’m still in mild shock,” she said Thursday.
McWherter, 51, said she remembers awakening then falling back to sleep in the early morning hours of April 25 until a sound jolted her out of bed at close to 4 a.m.
“I heard a ‘crack pop.’ I jumped,” she said. “I didn’t know what it was.”
A preliminary investigation into the cause of the fire pointed to an electrical issue at the breaker panel, Merrill said.
The panel was located on a wall next to McWherter’s bed in her bedroom. It was encased in a wooden cabinet for decorative purposes.
She said when she opened the wooden door, flames were shooting out of the breaker panel.
“I wanted to open it. There was no way,” she said of the metal door.
That set off panic.
She screamed for her grandchildren and a family dog who regularly visited but were not there on that occasion.
She looked around at the home she had made, realizing it was all about to go up in smoke.
She wanted to try to shut off the main breaker switch but couldn’t get near it.
The last thing she wanted to do was to run out the door and watch everything she owned be scorched.
The trailer contained nearly all of her sentimental possessions, from family photos to her daughter’s art pieces to her grandmother’s pearls.
Black smoke eventually chased her out of the house coughing and wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and a night shirt.
By the time the Oak Harbor Fire Department reached the scene, smoke was billowing out of windows. Firefighters from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station also helped extinguish the blaze.
“I do not have insurance,” McWherter said. “The last thing I wanted to do was lose my home. I have worked so hard to try to get back on my feet and to make a home. I’ve always worked hard in my life to make a home for my family and do things so they can have a good life.
“It may not seem like much to other people, but it was everything to me.”
Despite this latest hurdle, McWherter is grateful.
She wasn’t injured. Nor was anyone else.
The American Red Cross paid for a six-day stay at a nearby motel, and the Opportunity Council of Island County extended that two more days.
After the fire, McWherter’s wardrobe was reduced to the clothes she had on, plus a flannel jacket and pair of tennis shoes she had left outside.
She has received support from her church, Christ the King in Oak Harbor, and a gift bag from the Garage of Blessings.
Her biggest blessing, however, is her family.
A former registered nurse with a degree from the University of Washington, McWherter helped raise three children who all went on to college and earned degrees.
McWherter, who lives off a disability check from a heart condition, will eventually move in with Glaspie and her family in Oak Harbor until she can get back on her feet again.
“She was a great mom,” Glaspie said of her upbringing. “She put a lot of effort into making sure we did our homework. She’s done a lot for us as we’ve gotten older. My brother (Daniel Cromwell) has a master’s degree in science. I have an associate’s in nursing. My sister (Michelle Cromwell) is a registered nurse.”
Glaspie has set up a fund to raise money to help rebuild her mother’s life at an online fundraising site. It can be accessed at www.gofundme.com/8nxuy0
The Oak Harbor Tavern also is planning a spaghetti dinner fundraiser May 17.
Most pressing is the need to raise money to move the damaged mobile home off the lot.
With so many more immediate needs, McWherter can’t imagine she’ll ever be able to afford restoration of many of her most endearing items charred by intense heat.
She’ll just pick up the pieces and move on.
Most family photos were lost. One of her favorites, showing her father holding her when she was a toddler on Easter in Houston, Texas, is still attached to the refrigerator door, curled and badly damaged.
“The older you get, the harder it is to start over,” McWherter said. “Maybe this is a sign to open new doors. I have hope. I’m a believer.
“I should have burned up in that fire. I should be dead. There’s a reason that I’m not.”