This story first posted June 11, 2012
Digging through the remains of their Twin Lakes of Brandon home, Linda and Craig Baldwin say it is their faith that will get them through the days and weeks ahead as they sort through the rubble and make plans for the future.
"What gets us through this is our faith, our faith in God," Linda Baldwin said. "This is just a small picture of the big picture. It may not look good right now but we have to have faith in God."
Firefighters responded to the Baldwin home, at 3016 Partridge Point Trail, on June 7 at about 10:05 a.m. to battle what became a two-alarm file. The second alarm was issued because of the fire's speed and because a part of the roof collapsed, according to the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue report.
Digging through the remains of their home and their fire- and water-damaged belongings, the Baldwins say they thank God no one was at home when the fire broke out and that no one was injured battling the fire.
They regret deeply, though, the loss of their dog, Jazz, a chihuahua they picked out from a breeder at just 2 days old and that would have turned 8 in July.
"He was only 4 or 5 pounds and he was just a loving a dog," Linda Baldwin said. "He just loved to be loved."
The Baldwins said they are retired non-commissioned military officers. Linda Baldwin now works at the Department of Veterans Affairs and her husband, a network engineer, was in El Paso, TX, at Fort Bliss, on contract with the military when the fire broke out.
He flew home a day later.
"My reaction when I heard the news? I just wanted to make sure no one in my family was injured," Craig Baldwin said. "As long as everybody was safe, that was the main issue. The house? Hey, that's nothing I can do anything about. I just thank the Lord everybody was safe."
The Baldwins said they have insurance and that they are living in a hotel as they sort through the issues of where to live next. They lived in the Twin Lakes home since 1997 with their son, Brandon, 21; their daughter, Chereese, 32; and Chereese's 5-year-old daughter, Miracle.
The most prominent need the Baldwins have is for clothes, and especially work clothes and shoes.
A representative from the Foundation Angel program of the Greater Brandon Community Foundation was set to meet up with the Baldwins today, June 11, to assess the family's needs and to offer some initial assistance in the way of gift cards to area stores. According to Lisa Wheeler, chair of the Angel program, the effort aims to assist Brandon residents facing a long-term illness or catastrophic event, such as a fire.
- For information on how to help, call the Greater Brandon Community Foundation, Angel program, at 813-689-6889.
After days of sorting through the rubble, the Baldwins said they were heartened to discover "blessings" along the way.
Linda Baldwin found her mother's ring, another small diamond ring and the dog tag her husband gave her from his contract work in Iraq. She said she dug deep in the rubble left behind where her jewelry armoire once stood.
The family pictures she had gathered, in hopes of soon scrapbooking, were found in a plastic bin that had been placed in the one room of the house, in front, that had not been affected by the fire itself.
"They're in perfect condition," Linda Baldwin said.
Unfortunately, though, pictures of her mother taken in the weeks leading up to her death from cancer a few years ago, which Linda Baldwin had taken out recently to look at in her master bedroom, did not survive the fire.
"I try to push that thought out and look instead at the blessings," she said.
Such as the Swarovski crystals she found, mostly intact, in the curio cabinet, which were given to her over the years from her husband, for anniversaries and Christmas.
"They were in there somewhere, underneath all the rubble," Linda Baldwin said.
The family fish survived, having swum to the bottom of the tank, Craig Baldwin reasons. The fish are now living with a nephew.
Craig Baldwin found relatively undamaged a thick binder full of his awards and certificates from the military.
Linda Baldwin is amazed she found in plastic boxes shoes she can wear.
"Some of them are wet, some of them smell of smoke, but they were intact and I'm going to see if I can clean them," she said. "Anything I can find is a blessing. It's kind of like finding a jewel."
As for what caused the fire, no official report has yet been issued. Linda Baldwin said she believes an electrical fire had been caused by dust in the surge protector. It was in the master bedroom, "against the wall that leads directly to the outside," and that's where the neighbor who called 911 had reported seeing flames, about 5-feet and "popping."
As the investigation continues, the Baldwins set forth to pave a new life.
"We'll get by," Craig Baldwin said. "God doesn't put anything on our shoulders we can't get through. God doesn't take you to a point to leave you there. He gets you through it. As one door closes another door opens. I guess this is our time to face a new beginning. We'll go through that door and this, too, shall pass."