A fire may have destroyed Jim Jarvis' home and livelihood, but the carpenter said it's his faith in humanity that rose from the ashes.
Jarvis and his live-in girlfriend, Cheryl Johns, were swimming in a pond behind their home on Summer Lakes Drive on Thursday afternoon when he heard a “peculiar” sound. As he walked up the hill to the home, a window busted and smoke billowed from the opening, while flames shot through one end of the roof.
John ran to the nearest neighbor, whose home was located across the pond.
“All our phones were inside. We couldn't get to them,” Jarvis said. “I attempted to enter the house and retrieve the two cats and maybe a valuable or two. When I opened the door, it was completely full of black smoke.”
The home was nearly gone by the time fire crews responded, Jarvis said. But along with the first responders came American Red Cross volunteers and neighbors, some of whom, literally, gave Jarvis and Johns the clothes off their backs. “I had nothing but a pair of shorts. My girlfriend had nothing but her bathing suit on,” he said.
Some people gave the couple clothes to wear, while others brought refreshments for them, and even food for their dog.
The Red Cross put them up in a hotel for several nights and also gave them some spending money.
“At that point, I didn't have a wallet, a cellphone or an ID,” Jarvis said. “I don't know what we would have done if it wasn't for all that.”
A neighbor got in touch with a Realtor who had a mobile home available that she typically only rents out during the winter, Jarvis said. She waived the security deposit, and the utilities had already been turned on in the home.
Jarvis and Johns will be moving into the home this week, but in order to start rebuilding his life, the carpenter needs to replace all the tools he lost in the fire – thousands of dollars worth. He didn't have renter's insurance.
“I lost all my tools I make my living with, my means of livelihood,” he said.
Jarvis' boss and friend, Matt Johnson, has set up a trust fund to help buy new tools.
“He's the kind of man who's worked his whole life. He invested all his money in tools,” Johnson said. “All of a sudden, a working man has no tools. He can't go make extra money – he can't go make any money. … He has to start over now. He doesn't even have a screwdriver.”
Johnson has set up a fund at Security Federal Bank called the Jarvis-Johns Revocable Trust. Donations can be made at any Security Federal Bank location, and Johnson said he wants to raise $20,000.
Johnson is also accepting donations of tools of all sizes, new and used. He said he can even arrange to pick the tools up. To arrange a donation, call Johnson at 803-474-0148.
“Life can get you cynical as you go through it,” Jarvis said. “Then something like this comes along, and it has absolutely floored me, this generosity out of complete strangers who have never met me and probably never will.
“Thank you,” he continued. “To everybody involved and everybody that came through. Just thank you.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.