Couple finding life after house fire difficult
by The Press and Standard | December 25, 2018 9:00 am
Last Updated: December 24, 2018 at 11:45 am
Life was normal for Julia and Reuben Theodore James Riggins until Sept. 24.
That morning, he was at dialysis and she was on her way to pick him up. “On the way home, I called a cousin of mine asked me if I’d made it home yet. And he told me my house was on fire,” she said.
A cable crew working on Augusta Highway that morning noticed the smoke and flames and called Fire-Rescue. But by the time the first engines arrived, smoke and flames were coming from the window of the single-story block home and heavy smoke was coming from all sides. Firefighters managed to contain the fire to three rooms, but the home “suffered substantial damage.”
Julia grew up in that house, built by her parents about 1969-1970 when she was 3-4 years old.
“Back when I was courting her, I courted her from that house,” James said. “Then we lived in Walterboro at Lincoln Apartments. We lived there eight years. Then when her mother passed, we moved back to the house (in 2008).”
Since Sept. 24, the Riggins’ life has consisted of a room at the Southern Inn. Their church organizations at Oakman Branch and St. John’s Missionary Baptist churches raised money to pay the $250/day hotel bill, but now that money has run out. There was no insurance money, because “We were in financial straits at the time and couldn’t keep it up,” James said.
“All the donations that we’ve been getting from churches and others are completely depleted,” Julia said. “We’ve been straining to pay it out of or pocket and our next rent is due tomorrow (Dec. 20). And we don’t have a dime of it. And we don’t know what that lady’s going to do with us if we don’t come up with her money between now and tomorrow at 9 o’clock.”
They’ve tried putting in applications at various apartments around Walterboro, “but all of them say they are full up and they have a long waiting list,” James said. Plus, he is confined to a wheelchair after a fall about eight years ago. “I’m on dialysis and I’m handicapped. And I’m 67 years old.” He is on disability and Julia works about 20 hours a week as a caregiver. (He worked as a radio announcer and an embalmer at a funeral home until his fall. He’s still an associate pastor at St. John’s M.B. Church in Varnville.)
They have no children — no one to help them. “It’s just the two of us,” Julia said. All the public service agencies, like the Salvation Army and the Red Cross, have done all they can do.
They looked in to trying to get a USDA loan, but they have to pay for two bids from contractors to apply. And they don’t know how to do that. “We don’t really know anyone personally,” Julia said. They do know the interior of the house is badly damaged.
At this point, James’ preference would be to get a trailer and just tear down the house, he said.
Anything to get out of the hotel room.
“We were hoping maybe the community churches in this county and area would help us,” Julia said. Just enough to get back on their feet.
They have set up an account at the Bank of Walterboro that is available at all branches, for anyone who would like to help. There is also a GoFundMe account called Riggins Burn Fund.
“We just can’t stand it much longer,” Julia said.