Former Brookhaven resident’s home lost during apt. fire

Published 6:44 pm Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mary Jane Sistrunk escaped her apartment in Starkville with herpet bunny, her purse and the clothes on her back Tuesday when theCrossgates Apartments off Stark Road caught fire, leaving threebuildings gutted and possibly 100 people homeless.

The daughter of Jimmie and Bill Sistrunk of Brookhaven said she hadseen the two buildings on either side of her building on fire andhad gone to move her car when officials told her the area had beenblocked off.

“I was trying to walk back down toward my apartment and they saidwe couldn’t go back in there,” said Sistrunk, who was not deterredin an attempt to save her pets. “I had a rabbit and a cat, so Iwent through the breezeway of one of the buildings and went backupstairs and got my rabbit and tried to get my cat, but I couldn’tget her in the carrier. I couldn’t get her out.”

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And as the fires neared Sistrunk’s home, many people in Brookhavenstarted praying. During the melee, she had called herparents.

“Her building went down in about 30 minutes,” said Jimmie Sistrunk.”She called and said, ‘Get the prayer chain started, the buildingbehind me has burned down and the one next to me has startedburning.'”

So Jimmie Sistrunk began making phone calls. She said herdaughter’s building burned and she lost everything, but that therewere still miracles in the experience.

“God has done so many things in that situation,” she said. “Thefact that nobody was hurt is a blessing, because it burned sofast.”

Mary Jane Sistrunk, 49, is now staying with friends, and Jimmiesaid there has been a lot of support for the victims of the fire inthe Starkville community.

“It has been really traumatic for us, trying to console her, butall the people up there have been wonderful to her,” she said.”It’s just amazing how her friends and even people she doesn’t knoware trying to help, it’s been great.”

Mary Jane Sistrunk said she does have renter’s insurance, and theRed Cross has issued debit cards with about $200 each on them tobuy food and clothing. But still there are things that are hard tobear.

“It made me realize if I could have just gotten a couple of thingsout, some family jewelry and my cat, all the rest can be replaced,”she said. “I’ve always thought, ‘If my place catches on fire, I’lljust grab my clothes, roll them up in the comforter, and try to getthem out.’ But you don’t think of that.”

Starkville officials have said that between 90 and 100 residentslost their homes and in the fires that engulfed buildings 19, 20and 21 at the apartment complex Tuesday evening. All threebuildings were a total loss.

“There were fire trucks from all around the county there. Therewere trucks everywhere,” Sistrunk said. “And they said they stilldon’t know the cause of it, there was some talk of an electricalbox, or a cigarette in the shrubs … there was a theory that afamily was cooking and she ran out yelling that there was a fire,so I haven’t heard yet what the cause was.”

Starkville and Oktibbeha County firefighters worked for about fourhours Tuesday to bring the fires under control and remained at theapartment complex through the night. The State Fire Marshal’sOffice is expected to investigate the cause of the fire.

Sistrunk said that while everyone keeps talking about how everyonein the three buildings that burned had “lost everything,” it is notinaccurate, but there is a greater truth.

“I’m OK, and I know God doesn’t ever break us more than we canbear,” she said. “I could have lost my rabbit, but my little rabbitand I are safe. I had renter’s insurance, I have my faith, so allis not lost.”