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story.lead_photo.caption Tim (from right) and Valerie Wright stand Jan. 6 in the bedroom of one of their sons on the second floor of their Cincinnati home with their children, Will Wright, 5; Isaac Wright, 3; Paul Martinez, 12; and Jon Martinez, 10; after a fire heavily damaged their 1930s-era home Christmas Eve. Without insurance, the Wrights are left to repair the house they have been restoring for the last seven years at their own expense with the help of donations from friends and deep discounts from local companies. - Photo by Andy Shupe

CINCINNATI -- Valerie and Tim Wright could only watch Christmas Eve as a fire tore through much of the 1930s farmhouse they had spent almost seven years renovating.

The couple is thankful the blaze didn't injure them or their four children -- boys ages 3, 5, 10 and 12.

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The family has kept a blog about their home and farm since 2011. It is at

Photo by Photo provided by Valerie Wright
Valerie and Tim Wright’s home in the Washington County community of Cincinnati burns Dec. 25.
Photo by Andy Shupe
The Wrights speak to their children outside their home, which was damaged by fire on Christmas Eve.

And they're determined to restore what the fire claimed.

"I think it's doable. We're can-do people. We're not going to give up on our home," Valerie Wright said.

"We didn't lose absolutely everything," Tim Wright added. "We've still got a really good structure. Our biggest issue is the roof."

The Northwest Arkansas chapter of the American Red Cross has responded to 41 house and apartment fires that affected 140 people in Benton and Washington counties since July 1, including the Wrights' house fire, according to Jaison Scott, disaster program manager for the chapter.

"Sadly, this is something we deal with year-round, but especially in the winter time," Scott said.

The Red Cross tends to see an increase in residential fires when winter sets in, often because of problems stemming from people heating their homes improperly, he said.

It appears the Wrights' efforts to keep warm led to their fire.

The family was together on the first floor watching It's a Wonderful Life late Christmas Eve when Valerie Wright thought she smelled something strange. She went outside and looked at the chimney. A red glow bounced from a vent in the attic, she said.

The Lincoln Fire Department received the call at 11:17 p.m. and arrived on the scene 18 minutes later, according to Jay Norton, the department's fire administrator. They were joined by the Prairie Grove, Farmington, Cincinnati and Wedington fire departments.

The fire "appeared to us to start in the area of the flue of a wood-burning appliance," Norton said.

Tim Wright agreed, pointing to the remains of a wooden board that had been just behind the chimney's stovepipe in a part of the wall that was out of sight. Wright believes the overheated board caught fire and it spread across the roof and attic.

The Wrights estimate repairs will cost $80,000.

The family spent Christmas morning opening presents in their front yard.

"After we saved the kids, the pets, the Bibles and a couple of photo albums, we grabbed the Christmas presents. So at least they could have a Christmas," Valerie Wright said of the boys.

The Wrights' two younger children played in the front yard recently among large piles of debris -- loaded trash bags, wooden boards and cinder blocks -- pulled from the house. The stovepipe lay among the rubble.

Jon Martinez, the couple's 10-year-old son, lost his pet turtle, Raphael, in the blaze. The family also lost their goldfish, which did not survive the cold once evacuated.

"It's been hard," Jon said.

The Wrights have been cheered, however, by the help they've received from the community. A neighbor offered the family the temporary use of a house. Businesses such as The Home Depot, Square One Truss and ABC Supply Co. have offered help as well, Tim Wright said.

Burton Wright Home Comfort in Fayetteville offered to donate a heating system with all the necessary duct work and installation. Powell Feed and Home of Siloam Springs offered several bags of feed for the family's pets and livestock.

"There's a lot of people working with us trying to help us out, whether it be donations of material, time, food, anything else," Tim Wright said.

"The Amish have been great around here. They've been down here helping us move furniture, covering windows for me, helping me with trash. There's been a lot of people coming together, people I don't even know, just giving us a hand. There's still a lot of good in the world."

The Wrights allowed their homeowners insurance to lapse. They said they'd been talking about getting insurance again just days before the fire. Tim Wright said he was installing smoke detectors before the fire, but they weren't working yet.

The Wrights bought the former dairy farm in 2011. The original part of the house was built in 1934. The property includes a few barns and sheds.

The house was dilapidated. The Wrights fixed it up little by little, as much as they could afford to do on Tim Wright's income from his job as an electrician. Valerie Wright has kept a blog since 2011 about the project and the family's experience with country living.

"It's taken us seven years for our house to get to this point, and it's probably going to take another seven years to get back," Valerie Wright said.

The Red Cross has checked in with the family a couple of times and provided money, which probably will go toward the waste bin needed to dispose of the debris, Valerie Wright said.

The Red Cross, upon responding to a residential fire, identifies and tries to meet the immediate needs of the occupants. That may include short-term housing or money for food or clothes, Scott said.

"Depending on the circumstances, we can do replacement medications, we can provide assistance with mental health," he said. "There's a variety of things we do most people don't know we do."

Arkansas had the second-highest rate of fire-related deaths in 2015 with 24.2 deaths per million residents, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

On a typical Sunday night, the Wright family would have been asleep when fire broke out. They were up late because it was a holiday. Had they been sleeping, would someone have woken up in time to avoid tragedy?

"Who knows," Tim Wright said. "There's no telling how far it would have progressed by that time."

"It's very scary to think about that," Valerie Wright added.

NW News on 01/15/2018

Print Headline: Family determined to rebuild home hit by fire

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