Fire chief and family find a way forward after home destroyed in blaze
Timber Knob Volunteer Fire Department chief Nancy Winslow has been in the face of fire more times than she can count in her 25 years of service to the department. From operating machinery to help douse flames at residents’ homes to pulling victims and pets from burning buildings and helping neighbors find the remnants of their lives buried in the ashes during their most vulnerable time, Nancy has never hesitated to lend a helping hand to those in need or stand strong in the face of destruction. But nothing could have prepared her for the feeling of seeing the home she shares with her partner, Lana Broncho, also a volunteer firefighter, her three children and granddaugther, burn to the ground last week.
Now, the community they’ve served for so many years is rallying to help support the family.
“Our family has helped so many people recover from fires for so many years, it’s really great to see the community stepping up and helping us in our time of need now,” Nancy’s mother, former Timber Knob VFD chief Ruby Winslow, told the Times Monday.
The 911 call reporting the structure fire was called in to the Ozark County Sheriff’s Department dispatcher at 8:32 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31, by 16-year-old Isabella. That call was quickly followed by one to Nancy and Lana, who were at the VFW in Isabella, about 15 miles away from their home on Della Rose Lane off County Road 608 near the Missouri-Arkansas state line.
Isabella told Nancy that she and the others "kids," who range in age from 2 to 21, were at their home alone when they had plugged the vacuum cleaner into a power strip in the living room. Sparks shot out of the strip and caught the living room carpet on fire, and the flames quickly spread.
The kids escaped from the trailer, and Nancy and Lana raced from the VFW to their house - a trip that took about 15 minutes. On the way, Nancy called her father, Butch Winslow, to let him know what had happened. Butch, who lives only a few miles from Nancy and Lana’s home, pulled on his boots, woke up his wife Ruby and headed out the door.
“I was asleep when he found out, so I told Butch to just get over there and help the kids. I didn’t want him to wait on me to get ready before he left,” Ruby said. “But then I was stuck at the house without a vehicle, worried to death.”
When Butch got outside and saw the glow of the flames in the night sky coming from the direction of Nancy and Lana’s house, his heart sank.
“He was nearly in tears. He was so worried about the kids - afraid that they’d try to go inside to save things,” Ruby said.
Butch flew out the driveway and over to trailer. He found the kids safe, standing outside the structure, and bundled them up and sat them in his truck while he hurried to help the firefighting efforts.
The Ozark County Sheriff’s Office toned out Timber Knob, Pontiac and Gainesville VFDs, along with the Ozark County Ambulance. Ambulance EMT Brian Morgan was the first voice to come across the radio, indicating that he’d arrived on scene and the trailer was already fully engulfed at that time. A flurry of Gainesville, Pontiac and Timber Knob firefighters, including Nancy and Lana, swarmed in and began spraying down the blaze, but it was obvious that the flames weren’t letting up easily. The firefighters did all they could, but the trailer and most of the family’s belongings were completely lost to the blaze. The scene was cleared at 10:32 p.m.
“They all did an excellent job,” Nancy said. “I really do want to thank them.”
Although the fire destroyed almost all of their belongings, Nancy and Lana say they are thankful that the irreplaceable things – the four children, along with their 12-year-old cat, Sky Kitten and 15-year-old cat Itty Bitty, all walked away unharmed from the fire, ash and rubble that night.
Nancy and Lana’s fellow firefighters on the Timber Knob department pulled their resources together and purchased a two-night stay at a local motel, and the Ozark County Ministerial Alliance paid for another week. When Lana called Gainesville High School to tell them the girls wouldn’t be at school that day due to the fire, the school sent the family vouchers for school clothes.
“We really want to thank the school for all they’ve done. They’ve been so understanding and so helpful. Also Timber Knob VFD and all the others who have helped us,” Nancy said.
Ruby said that Nancy, Lana and the rest of the family have been reminded that there is hope even in the darkness of such hard times.
“As they were going through all their charred things, Nancy walked into her bedroom and pulled off the burned-up mattress,” Ruby said. “Underneath she saw the scorched guitar case. It was charred and melted in places. She took it out and opened it up, nearly in tears. But when she cracked that case open, she found the old bass guitar without any smoke damage and still in tune! She’s played guitar for a long time, and her grandmother [Lora Payne] bought her that guitar more than 20 years ago. It’s always meant a lot to her.”
A few other belongings were also found amid the rubble, including a set of crystals Nancy’s aunt had given her before she died.
“Things like that are just enough of a spark to see that there is a silver lining, and things will get better,” Ruby said.
Nancy, Lana and their children are currently trying to pick up the pieces and figure out where they will go from here. They have enough clothing and basic items to sustain them currently, and they do not have anywhere to store furniture or other larger belongings yet.
Monetary donations can be made to an account set up at Century Bank of the Ozarks by calling the bank at 417-679-3321 or mailing a check to Century Bank of the Ozarks at P.O. Box 68, Gainesville, MO 65655. Checks can be made payable to Lana Broncho, Nancy Winslow or Ruby Winslow. Donations can also be submitted online through two separate Go Fund Me accounts. Visit www.gofundme.com and search for “Nancy Winslow Fire fund” or “The Broncho Family Fire Recovery Fund.”