North Carolina

NC deputy and his family lose home in fire just days before Christmas

SWANNANOA, N.C. (WSPA) -  The Buncombe County Sheriff's Office is stepping up to help one of their own after a house fire left a deputy and his family without a home. 

On Thursday morning, first responders battled a blaze that engulfed a home on O'Neil Circle in Swannanoa, not knowing it belongs to 6-year veteran deputy Billy Watkins. 

Investigators say no one was injured in the blaze, which also destroyed a vehicle. 

"This incident has caused incredible stress and strain to the family, and they will need community support for quite some time," according to sheriff's office officials.

Buncombe County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Don Eberhardt says the extensive damage left him, the sheriff and the sheriff's command staff speechless. 

"I stood there looking at that and when you hear a complete loss or sometimes you envision what it looks like, but when you're standing there and you realize this house is literally to the ground... there's not a single thing that's salvageable. That puts a different twist on things," said Eberhardt. 

Eberhardt says watching the family's belongings, their heirlooms and the Christmas presents Watkins had bought for his 16-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son is hard to put into words. 

"How would you begin to put the pieces back together," Eberhardt said. 

The sheriff's office quickly put their emergency assistance plan into action, but this time to provide aid for a member of their own brotherhood. 

Eberhardt says they reached out their partners at the Red Cross and Eblen Charities in Asheville, who were honored to help a law enforcement officer. 

"Within 10 minutes we had funds set up, we had online donations set up," said Eblen Charities Executive Director Bill Murdock. "We were able to get some Ingles gift cards for their basic needs." 

Eberhardt says the sheriff's office is prepared to do everything they can to take the burden off of Watkins and his family. 

"While he has blood family, he also has nearly 450 family members that are going to embrace him and be there for him not just in the short term, but for the long term," Chief Deputy Eberhardt said.

The Buncombe County Sheriff's Office is asking the community to lift the Watkins family up in prayer. 

If you are interested in making a donation online click here and choose "Billy Watkins Family Assistance" from the drop-down box at the bottom of the form. 

All other donations for the family can be dropped off at Eblen Charities located at 50 Westgate Parkway, Asheville, N.C. 28806, put "Billy Watkins' Family Donation" in the memo line. 

Donations can also be made by phone by calling 828-255-3066.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. 

"The Buncombe County Sheriff's Office asks that the public keep the Watkins family in their thoughts and prayers not only in the time immediately after this tragedy, but in the months to come." 

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