Destructive Blaze Still Haunts Miss. Family

Aug. 11--VIDALIA -- All Loyce Marchbanks wanted to save were the memories.

"Everything else was replaceable, but not our memories -- those were gone forever," Marchbanks said, remembering a 2002 fire at her Vidalia house that destroyed nearly everything inside. "I thank God everyday that none of my family was hurt because that was always the most important thing.

"But there were so many pictures, portraits and just memories that were lost that day."

When The Dart landed on Holly Street Saturday afternoon, Marchbanks had just been reminded of the fire after she found a folder containing newspaper clippings from that day while cleaning out an old dresser.

The fire doesn't get brought up much in family discussions anymore.

But for months after the July 10 blaze, the fire filled all the family's conversations.

"We were all that we had after that fire, so we leaned on each other and our families for support," Loyce said. "You just never think something like that will happen to you."

Loyce's son, Matt Marchbanks, who was 12 at the time, was at home playing video games with a neighborhood friend that afternoon.

Loyce remembers how Matt described to her later that day what happened.

"His friend said, 'I think I smell smoke' and Matt just kind of said 'Yeah, right' and went back to playing video games," Loyce said. "His friend looked out and saw flames were coming out of the door where the air conditioning unit was and said, 'Your house is on fire.'"

Matt and his friend ran out of the house and called his dad for help.

David Marchbanks made it to the house before the firefighters arrived and started trying to extinguish the flames with a garden hose.

Loyce didn't hear of the fire until it had taken most of her house.

"My dad came to my office in Ferriday where I worked at the time and said he wanted to take me to a fire sale," Loyce said. "I remember thinking he was crazy and just told him I was too busy at work and couldn't go.

"He told me I was really going to want to go to this one because it was at my house."

Loyce later realized her father, Buck Denny, was simply trying to deliver the news in a way that wouldn't cause immediate fear and panic.

That message, however, didn't necessarily come across at first or during the car ride from Ferriday to her house in Vidalia.

"I know he was trying not to stress me out, but I was freaking out because I was trying to call my kids and couldn't get them, I was trying to call my husband and couldn't get him, so I was about to have a major meltdown," Loyce said. "That whole car ride, I just couldn't help but think of the worst."

The moments after Loyce's dad pulled up to her Holly Street house are still a blur to this day.

"I couldn't find my kids, David was trying to go inside and get things from the house, I couldn't find my dog -- it was just crazy," Loyce said. "Once I realized everyone was OK, I just started thinking about all the memories we lost.

"The material things could be replaced, but not the memories."

Loyce's mind immediately went to her daughter, Meghan, who was getting ready to start her senior year at Adams County Christian School at the time.

Loyce had spent weeks gathering old photos, cheerleading uniforms, softball medals and other memories of Meghan's childhood to be showcased for the school's senior program.

"I had every single thing of hers I could think of spread out on the kitchen table, and it was all gone," Loyce said. "Matt was 12 at the time and didn't miss beat after the fire, but it was tough for Meghan because she was already going through a lot."

Meghan, who now lives in Biloxi with her husband and baby daughter, admits the loss of so many memories was difficult for her to cope with at the time.

But Meghan said she always prefers to look at what was saved from the fire instead of what was lost.

"When I left the house that morning, my brother was still asleep, and I didn't know his friend had come over to play," Meghan said. "So when my friend from down the street called me to tell me about the fire, my mind just immediately jumped to Matt."

Meghan remembers pulling up to the house and seeing a swarm of firefighters going in and out of the house and her father sitting on the back of an ambulance breathing through an oxygen mask.

But she couldn't find her brother.

"I just kept asking everyone, 'Where is Matt? Where is Matt?" Meghan said. "Everyone was telling me to calm down, but I just kept saying, 'I need to see my brother and know that he is OK.'

"I finally got to see him, and I hugged him so tight."

The Marchbanks family eventually repaired and restored their house with the help of a close-knit circle of family and friends.

Any physical evidence a flame ever touched the house is long gone, though Meghan can still remember every single detail of that day.

She remembers everything that was lost, but the most important thing that was saved.

"Not a day goes by where I don't think about what would have happened if Matt's friend hadn't come over to play that day," Meghan said. "He might have still been sleeping when that fire started, and my daughter would have never been able to hug her uncle."

Copyright 2014 - The Natchez Democrat, Miss.