RV tenants recover from loss of community center (video)
Jennifer Lee Preyss
Oct. 24, 2012 at 5:24 a.m.
Updated Oct. 25, 2012 at 5:25 a.m.
EDNA - In a parked minivan outside the Shady Oaks RV Resort main office, Penny Butler and Erlene Easterling stared out the windows and observed the remnants of a beloved building.
Penny's husband, Dan Butler, stood outside the vehicle near a slew of mud puddles scattered across the gravel parking lot.
The near 30-year-old, 6,000 square-feet office, which doubled as a gift shop and event hall, caught fire about 7:35 p.m. Tuesday and burned for more than an hour. Water from the fire department hoses had muddied the parking lot - a next-day reminder of the blaze that lit up the neighborhood only a few hours earlier.
"We sure used it a lot," said an emotional Easterling, a 13-year resident of Shady Oaks who helped convince the former RV park owner to open the event center to the public more than a decade ago. "People used that building for everything from family reunions to wakes."
Nodding her head during Easterling's comments, Butler said, "Yes, we had some kind of event just about every weekend. It was an older building, but we did our best to keep it up."
Butler, who owns the 61-resident park, which is about 4.5 miles north of Edna, with her husband Dan, said the loss of the structure is devastating because it was more than a gift shop and recreation facility.
The event center, she said, brought together the neighborhood residents and provided a space for hundreds of Crossroads residents to celebrate their most treasured family moments.
On Tuesday night, when the building ignited, Easterling watched firefighters battle the flames for about four hours from the living room of her RV.
"I could see the flames and I said, 'I gotta go up there,'" she said. "But I had no business up there ... so I turned the lights out and opened the blinds so I could watch the comings and goings."
"I would have come down there to check on you if I saw your lights on," Penny Butler said. "I thought you were sleeping, and I didn't want to wake you."
City of Edna Fire Marshal Buster Chase said responders from Edna, Louise, Vanderbilt, Ganado and El Campo assisted with putting out the fire, which first ignited in the office.
Chase said the suspected cause is an old extension cord that coiled up and caught the pile of boxes sitting on top of it on fire.
The flames moved into the attic before spreading to the rear of the building, Chase said.
"The cord had been here since the old owners were here, and (the Butlers) have been here" for seven years, Chase said. "It was an old cord and was probably past its life."
Everything in the building was damaged by smoke, water or flames. Chase said the entire building would likely have to be torn down and rebuilt.
So that's what the Butlers intend to do - rebuild.
"It will turn around. I have no doubt," said Easterling's neighbor and friend, Darren Ellinger, who has lived in the park for nine years.
Standing near the minivan, Ellinger said he was saddened by the news of the fire, and has spent many good times in the building.
"This is my home. We're like family here. I've raised my son here," he said. "There probably isn't anyone in Edna or Ganado who is not affected by this."
Dan Butler said the building is insured, but the contents inside may not be insured to their full value.
Merchandise from the gift shop and the remaining contents from the event hall are worth about $20,000, but he said the preliminary report from the insurance company indicated they may only pay out about $8,000.
"Somehow, we're going to rebuild. I know we will, but there's no way to make it as good as it was," Dan Butler said.
The Butlers do not know how long it will take to rebuild the office. But they're committed to providing a new space for their tenants to use and enjoy.
Easterling and the Butlers said they're not sure how long the building will be out of commission, but as soon as it's open, they plan to christen the structure with a community event.
"Oh yes, we want to have a party when we open," Dan Butler said. "We're going to get a new generation going."
"We don't need an excuse to throw a party around here," Easterling said.