Harrison County

Turnout as house burns down ‘shows God is real,’ woman says

Retirees John and Bonnie Smith didn’t suffer alone as they watched a fire destroy their home in Swan Lake Estates just north of Gulfport.

Their church canceled its Sunday-night service and “had church” with them in a neighbor’s yard, Bonnie Smith said.

“The support of our church and neighbors shows God is real,” she said. “They were here for us.”

Her husband said about 80 members of Orange Grove Church of Christ turned out along with neighbors.

John Smith was a truck driver for 31 years for Indal Aluminum. Bonnie Smith was a registered nurse for 24 years at the VA Hospital in Gulfport.

The Smiths built their 3,300-square-foot home 16 years ago on North White Swan Road. Six other family members built homes there, too, including Bonnie Smith’s two sisters and two brothers.

Small fire grew

The Smiths had gone to church Sunday morning.

About 4:30 p.m., John Smith was working on a crossword puzzle. His wife was sprawled on the couch. Their daughter, Sharon, and their 10-year-old granddaughter, Jasmine, were elsewhere in the house. Their grandson Jordan, 16, had gone to the bathroom in the front garage, where John Smith had a work bench and electrical tools. The house had two garages. The one in front was the work room.

“My grandson came inside and said, ‘PawPaw, you need to come see this,’ ” John Smith said.

The fire at first wasn’t big. They tried to put it out themselves with a hose and an outdoor hydrant.

“Me and my crazy self ran in a bathroom with a pitcher to get some water,” Bonnie Smith said.

But the fire grew out of control so they ran outside.

John Smith had nine guns and about 400 rounds of ammunition in his work room. And a gas-powered lawn mower, and gas cans. The ammo detonated and his yard equipment helped fuel the fire.

Bonnie Smith grabbed the key to her car, which was parked alongside the workroom.

“The smoke was so black, so thick, the only way I could find the car was with my electronic key,” she said. “The car was hot. I couldn’t see to back up, so I drove backward while honking my horn.”

Gulfport firefighters arrived, followed by firefighters with the Harrison County Fire Service.

‘Best neighbors’

“I shed some tears, but I know God is going to work this out for good,” Bonnie Smith said. “We will rebuild.”

“Like most neighborhoods, we wave and say hello when we see people outside or walking a dog. But you don’t really know each other. But they came out to see what they could do. I have the best neighbors in the whole wide world.”

A neighbor who owns a hotel offered to let the family stay as long as they need.

A neighbor they didn’t know made arrangements for a benefit bank account at Gulf Coast Community Federal Credit Union.

Lawn chairs were later placed on one side of the house so the family could sit while waiting for inspectors and insurance adjusters to do their job. The Smiths returned Tuesday and noticed someone had left a box of muffins and an ice chest with water by their lawn chairs.

Bonnie Smith’s nephew retrieved 50 of her hats from the house.

“I’m the hat lady,” she said. “You don’t ever see me at church without a hat. But about a hundred of my hats didn’t make it. My makeup didn’t, either. Someone literally gave me the shirt I’m wearing.”