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Aubrey house fire

Aubrey house fire

By Tatiana Ambrosio

Staff Writer

John and Leslie Watson experienced a waking nightmare on the morning of March 7 when their house caught on fire.

The house, built in 1912, was a treasure to the couple who has lived there since 2001.

Although the couple is enduring tragedy, it has been the show of compassion from their community that has had a major impact on their lives.

The house is in the original part of Aubrey at 304 N. Main St., and it had been minimally updated when the couple bought it.

John explained that when they bought the house it was white with blackish-purple trim and “everybody called it the dollhouse.”

Aubrey house fire

From the start, the family felt welcomed into the community. When John first went to City Hall, he said, there was a drawing of the house on the wall.

While their son was in high school, community members encouraged him to apply for a four-year ag scholarship that was then awarded to him.

Despite the house’s age and its level of renovation, those were not factors in what likely caused the fire.

The fire started in the master bedroom.

“They thought [it was] a plug strip that was over my TV,” John said about the investigator's discovery.

However, there may also have been a different plug strip on the other side of the room that may be to blame.

Surge protectors have a reputation, John has learned, for being major fire hazards.

Aubrey house fire

“The insurance guy highly recommended not to use [surge protectors],” he said.

John has learned that the circuit made to shut off when it gets overloaded becomes a fire hazard when the items plugged into the circuit draw too much power.

In the Watson's case, an electric blanket plugged into the surge protector may have caused the fire to start.

No one was home during the fire. John is a retired electrician who had traveled to do some work in Nocona that morning while Leslie was at her job as a receptionist in Denton.

A neighbor called John at 10:58 a.m. and said, “John, your house is on fire.”

John was 20 feet up a pole working at the time.

“I’m thinking, ‘Whelp, what can I do?’” he said about being two hours away and up a pole.

Aubrey Fire responded to the call shortly thereafter.

The fire destroyed the foyer, the master bedroom, master closet and master bathroom.

Aubrey house fire

“It was consumed. It’s burnt,” John said, adding that the rest of the house suffered smoke and water damage.

The couple’s dog made it out OK, but they lost their cat to smoke inhalation.

“It’s the Lord’s blessing, really,” John said of the whole experience. “I mean, I haven’t figured it all out.”

Part of the blessing may be learning that they are cared for by their neighbors.

John said that neighbors have already given them a “garage full of clothes.”

“People gave me $6,000 yesterday morning,” he said of neighbors that walked up the driveway of his house to give him monetary support.

“‘Here’s $500.’ ‘Here’s $600.’ ‘Use it for whatever you need.’ ‘Don’t worry about it,’” John said, quoting the neighbors.

Aubrey house fire

While at several points becoming emotional, John said, the generosity and compassion of the community has been touching for him and his family to experience.

The Watsons have quite the road ahead of them as they await instructions from their insurance company.

There is a detailed process by which they must clean up, demolish and rebuild the house to be able to use their insurance.

Utilities have been turned off at the house, and the couple is staying in Denton with family while they wait.

John explained the first step in the process will be to request temporary permits to have the utilities turned back on.

“We're going to rebuild one way or the other. Come hell or high water,” John said of their determination to stay in their treasured house. “… This is historic Aubrey. … It’s iconic.”

It may take up to nine months to rebuild.

Donations to help the Watsons can be made at PointBank where an account has been set up under John and Leslie Watson.


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