'They're still in there' surviving father yells at fire scene
DEPOY — Bo Groves was awakened about 2 a.m. by a loud beating on his door. When he opened it, he saw his badly burned neighbor from across the street, Chad Watson, and Watson's young daughter, also badly burned, standing on his porch.
Groves brought them in, and Chad Watson said, "They're all gone. They're all gone."
The hair on one side of Watson's head was gone, and skin was falling off his and his daughter's hands. Watson told Groves that he tried to get back in the house several times to rescue his pregnant wife, LaRae, and their eight other children. Groves said Watson's wife appeared to be about two months from giving birth.
The surviving child, 11-year-old Kylie, stood with her hands outstretched, saying she couldn't believe they were gone.
Groves put on his shoes and ran to the road to see if he could help.
"I made it out to the road. It was just so hot ... I went back in the house. You could feel the heat like it was a wood burner," Groves said. He went back to his house to help the surviving father and child.
"We brought them in the house. I figured we'd get them in here where they couldn't see it," Groves said.
Watson walked in circles in Groves' living room, his charred hands outstretched. "His skin looked stained by the fire," Groves said. "It was the color of smoke."
Another neighbor, Clarence Humphrey, got up this morning at 1:55 a.m. to go the bathroom. As he returned to his bed, he looked out his back door and saw Watson's house engulfed in flames.
"I knew how many people lived there, and I knew they weren't getting out," he said. "I had to stop crying a couple of times.
"I just know I'm going to miss those red-headed little boys' freckled faces," he said, choking back tears.
"It's the most helpless feeling in the world, watching your neighbors burn up in a fire."
They were taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville where Watson is in critical but stable condition and his daughter is listed as stable.
Family members Roger and Linda Travis said the children who perished in the fire included a set of twins, Mark and Nathaniel, 4. Their father often preached at area churches, including as a guest preacher at Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church, neighbor Linda Courtney said.
Her son, Jason Courtney, stepped outside while Chad and Kylie Watson were still outside and could hear Chad yelling, "They're still in there."
Kim Williams, who works at nearby Bluegrass Collecting Agency, said the Watsons were regulars in church.
"They were really active in church," Williams said of the family. "We would see the girls waiting to catch the school bus."
Former Muhlenberg County Sheriff Harold "Roadblock" McElvain lives near the 1,100-square-foot, wood-frame house in the Depoy community.
"This is the largest devastation we have had here," McElvain said.
Depoy is an old mining camp community where a lot of retired people live. Everybody loved it when younger families moved in, he said.
"It's devastating to see that happen," McElvain said. "They were pretty tight-knit."
The children played outside a lot but never ventured far from home.
McElvain's wife, Kaye, stood on her porch and watched the fire, which began at 2 a.m., for several hours.
She was so upset, she could barely speak about the incident.
The house is in a small neighborhood of single-family dwellings, trailers and farmland. The side and roof of the small, white house collapsed around the chimney. In front of the house, a white van stood on a concrete parking pad. At least five kids' bikes and a child's riding toy were strewn about the yard near a swing set.
The dead also included 15-year-old Madison, 14-year-old Kaitlyn, 13-year-old Morgan, 8-year-old Samuel and 6-year-old Raegan, according to Kentucky State Police.
The Kentucky State Fire Marshal's Office also had an investigator on the scene.
This is Kentucky's third fire in a little more than a year that has killed five or more people. Last January, four children under 6 and their father were killed in a blaze near Pikeville in eastern Kentucky that also severely burned their mother. Authorities said the home lacked a smoke detector.
In March, a fire at a home in the southern Kentucky community of Gray killed a young couple and five children, the oldest of whom was 3.
The area of the latest fire was featured in the 1971 John Prine song "Paradise," about the impact of coal mining and what happened to the area around the Green River once the mining ended.
The song references Peabody Energy Corp. and a now-defunct town called Paradise.
Story by Robyn L. Minor
Bowling Green Daily News
Kentucky Press News Service