MAXTON —“That’s where my bedroom used to be,” Edward Ray Bryant said, pointing to a charred tangle of wood and bed springs.
The home Bryant built and lived in for 30 years was destroyed by a fire on Sunday afternoon while he was on his daily walk.
Bryant, 64, and his 44-year-old son, who is confined to a wheelchair, lost everything they own.
When Bryant first saw “a big ball of smoke” rising from his property on McBred Road, he was too scared to take note of what he was thinking at the time.
“It looked like it was coming from this area so I sped up my walk,” Bryant said. “When I got to where I could see, I could see flames shooting up from the roof so I took off running. I ran down here but it was so hot you couldn’t even be around it.”
The house was consumed by flames by the time firefighters arrived.
Bryant, who is disabled following an accident in 1992 and cannot work, said he didn’t have insurance on the home because it had gotten too expensive.
“I just prayed ‘Lord, don’t let my house burn down’ and …,” he said, shaking his head.
Two electric heaters were found at the site, said Lt. Brian Duckworth, fire investigator for the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, but they were badly damaged, making it hard to determine if one was the culprit. Duckworth said the cause of the fire hasn’t been officially determined but electric heater fires are common this time of year.
Fortunately, Bryant’s son, who was paralyzed when he was shot about 14 years ago, wasn’t home.
“I’m just thankful he wasn’t here, he wouldn’t have been able to get out,” said Bryant.
For now, Bryant is living with his ex-brother in law.
“Every morning I wake up and have to try and figure out where I’m at,” he said.
Bryant and his son were able to buy clothes using emergency financial aid from the Red Cross. Now, his priority is just having a place he can call his own.
He admits he has fallen behind on his taxes since breaking his neck while working at Edwards Wood Products in Maxton, and he worries what he has left — his land — will be seized.
“I’ve been here all my life and I couldn’t even imagine living somewhere else and calling it home,” he said.
Sarah Willets works for Civitas Media as a staff writer for The Robesonian.