72-year-old Sheriff's Deputy loses everything in fire

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

VANCLEAVE, MS (WLOX) - "I'm glad the Lord delivered me out of there," said Sheriff's Deputy and Pastor Tommy Howard, looking at what is left of his Vancleave home.

72-year-old Howard and his wife barely escaped the blaze that engulfed their house Thursday night.

"I heard something going 'pop,' that fire went up the wall," he said.

When they climbed through windows to get out, their lives were all they brought with them.

"I lost everything," Howard said.  "I just come out with my shorts."

Howard built the home himself years ago from what used to be a trailer.  Now that his house is destroyed, he's faced with the burden of rebuilding his home and his life.

"It's a tragedy, but it's happened," said close friend Roy Buxton, Sr. "Nothing we can do about it. I hate it happened. He's worked hard for 71 years to try to get this set up, and I just pray to God that he can endure it."

"I work too hard for this," Howard said, shaking his head.

His community is ready to help him and his wife get back on their feet. It's their chance to give back to someone who they say has dedicated his life to serving his community.

"Tommy is the type fellow that's been helping people throughout this community for years," said Buxton. "You need some help, you get it. He'll let you use his car, whatever. The community don't have much choice but to help him."

The community is already working hard to help, but they know this is just the beginning.

"When you have someone who's lost everything, it takes a long time, probably years to restore and replace the things that are lost," said Nathaniel Smith, Pastor at New Light Baptist Church. "So, right now, it's just taking care of the immediate need is what we are doing."

"I'm going to have to step aside and let them help me," Howard said.  "And I can't do it by myself. All I know is I appreciate them for coming."

Depsite the tragedy, he's determined to rebuild a life for his wife and family.

"I'll try and live on, you know," he said. "Going on with my life."

New Light Baptist church invites everyone to a benefit February 20th to raise money for the Howard family. The Church is on Burney Road in Vancleave.

If you can't go to the benefit but still want to help out, there's an account set up for the Howards at Hancock Bank. Just go to any branch and tell them you want to donate.