SPRING HILL — Nearly a month after the fire that reduced her home to a charred skeleton, Aurika Ashcroft shook her head with tear-filled eyes last week as she surveyed what was left.
Her family's blackened belongings, clothes, dishes, books and furniture were still piled outside as reminders of a March day gone horribly wrong.
Although her family resides just a few hundred yards away, Ashcroft doesn't often visit the house at 9069 Orchard Way alone. She prefers to wait until her husband, Ron, and 9-year-old son, Ruslan, can be there to ease the sorrow.
The memories of the nights when the family would gather to grill hamburgers on the patio, or play board games in the living room, still loom beneath the shady oaks surrounding the burned-out structure. Ashcroft, 46, can barely stand the thought of no longer having such moments.
"You never think about what it's like having to pick up the pieces of your life," she said. "So when it happens, you're so devastated and hurt you just go numb."
Ashcroft was the last member of her family to see their rental home standing on March 21. She left about 11:30 a.m. to mail packages to customers of her online exotic plant business and to visit friends. She returned shortly after 2 p.m. to see the 5-acre property covered in thick smoke and fire trucks parked around the home. The blaze, which investigators determined was started by faulty wiring in an appliance, had destroyed the three-bedroom mobile home. The family's two Shih Tzus, Adam and Eve, and their cat Tobias didn't survive.
Although the home was insured by the landlord, the Ashcrofts didn't have renter's insurance. Since then, they've struggled to regain a semblance of a normal life. Fortunately, friends and neighbors and others in the community have stepped up to help. The Red Cross provided the family with temporary lodging and money to buy food and clothes. Neighbors came by to help the family sift through their belongings, trying to salvage what they could.
Last week, Dixie Lopez, a co-worker of Ron Ashcroft's at Accuform Signs, south of Brooksville, organized a fundraising party at the Locomo Skate-Dance-Party in Spring Hill. Lopez is working on plans for another event in the next few weeks.
"Ron and his family are such wonderful people," Lopez said. "Everyone who knows them feels for them right now. We're trying to do whatever we can to help them get their lives back to normal."
Since the tragedy, the Ashcrofts have hung on to any glimmers of positivity that have come their way. Ruslan's orange tabby, Shoeshine, which the family thought had died in the blaze along with their other pets, reappeared a couple of days after the fire. Although severely burned on his legs and head, he continues to improve each day, Aurika Ashcroft said.
"Seeing Shoeshine come back meant the world to my son," Ashcroft said. "It gave him much hope."
The family hasn't decided where they will eventually live. For now, they are contented to stay in a small rented mobile home owned by a neighbor, and are saving up so they will be ready to move when a suitable permanent home is available.
Despite their setbacks, Ashcroft said her family's spirits remain intact.
"We're most thankful that we're all still together," she said. "I don't even want to think what might have happened if we had all been home that day. Those are the blessings that you count on."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.