Blaze gutted family’s home during pandemic, but their strong faith remains intact

The basement at Thomas and Gabrielle Walker’s home suffered a tremendous amount of damage during a March 28 blaze. The couple said they saw a glowing orange light coming from the garage at the onset of the fire. (Contributed photos)

A local family is working to rebuild after a fire claimed their home and left them homeless during a pandemic.

Thomas Walker, pastor of Stuart Baptist Church, his wife, Gabrielle and their family narrowly escaped a March 28 blaze their Stuart home.

Thomas Walker said it was a close call, and recalled the couple had put their kids to bed for the evening, and later were alerted to a loud noise. They saw a glowing orange light coming from the garage.

As the fire grew and spread, they scrambled to get out of the home.

As fire crews attacked the blaze, I just stood there in my pajamas, wrestling with the cat, trying to calm the kids, and calling for the dog. It didn’t seem real,Gabrielle Walker said. My mom lives next door, so she got to us faster than the first responders. Seeing her helped to calm me. I knew we had a safe place to go.

Nearly five hours later, the fire was subdued, according to the Walkers.

In the ensuing panic, one of the the family’s cats and their dog, Buster, could not be found. Initially, it appeared they had perished in the blaze. But as word of the blaze spread throughout the community, the Walkers heard that a large black dog had been seen trotting through the neighborhood. The next day, both Buster and his feline companion were located.

“It didn’t dawn on me that we are, in fact, homeless until several days after the fire,” Gabrielle Walker said, adding that she and her family are staying with her mother while life gets back on track.

Heat from the blaze was intense. It melted the bumper of the family’s car, which was parked in the driveway.

I am unemployed due to COVID-19, but Thomas is an essential employee. It’s a little scary to see him leave every morning for work. Of course, there is a lot of activity with insurance adjustors which adds stress, not to mention that it is also tax season, but even with all these things, I can say that God is good. He has provided for us every step of the way, as we knew He would. There are random times when something hits me, and I cry a bit, but then I think about just how good we have it – all things considered,” Gabrielle Walker said.

An essential worker, Thomas Walker planned to work from home during the pandemic, but that is no longer a possibility.

“I have to go out a lot more than we ever wanted during this time. Before the fire, we rarely left the house, but in the days after, I had shop for basic needs,he said, adding that “there is no longer a stocked pantry or freezer, kids’ games, or books for reading. We have learned to use a lot of more digital resources.

The family said they are experiencing other impacts due to the pandemic.

We can’t have a group of volunteers, friends, and family come in to help us. The house has smoke and now mildew, maybe mold. I wanted to go in right away to see there was anything else to salvage, but I couldn’t find a respirator mask that allows me to enter safely. All masks are sold out,Thomas Walker said.

Additionally, the fate of their home remains in limbo as they wait for officials to determine if the structure can be salvaged.

“The virus seems to have delayed some construction projects, so it is possible we will be delayed as well when it is time for us to have work done. At this point, we just don’t know, Thomas Walker said. Insurance adjustors have to make judgment calls on whether their presence is needed based on pictures and reports. We are waiting now for a structural engineer to inspect the house. We do not know if the virus has caused something to prevent the engineer from coming to the house, but,” he added it the family has been waiting on that visit for weeks.

The family also is recovering from the shock of the loss. Their children recovered quickly, and Buster also is in good spirits after taking a few days to acclimate to his new routine, Gabrielle Walker said.

Having experienced tragedy in the midst of a pandemic, the Walkers said the best advice they can offer during the storms of life is to:

* Connect with a local church. We are Christians, and our faith has sustained us through all of this. God’s people have helped to take care of us through various gifts and tons of prayer. They can also help point you to different places that can help provide for some necessities,” they said.

* Find loved ones. A family doesn’t always mean blood relatives, so look to those people that are or that you consider family and accept their help when they offer. If they do not know what you need, ask for help. Be understanding if they can’t help, though; this is a trying time for everyone,” they said.

* Take lots of deep breaths and tell yourself that things take time. We like to have things instantly, but when tragedy strikes, you must tell yourself that what you want to happen might take days, weeks, or even months – especially during a global crisis like we are facing now,” they added.

“Life is full of tragedy and loss, but it is also full of joy and fulfillment. We have that in Christ Jesus – joy even in the midst of sorrow, Thomas Walker said, and added that anyone in search of a church home is welcome at Stuart Baptist Church.

Keeping up with the Walker family by visiting Thomas Walker’s blog at: or the Stuart Baptist Church Facebook page.

The basement at Thomas and Gabrielle Walker’s home suffered a tremendous amount of damage during a March 28 blaze. The couple said they saw a glowing orange light coming from the garage at the onset of the fire. (Contributed photos)


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