Return to story
By PAMELA GOULD
For Len and Christy Carlson, this was to have been a time of celebration.
Family members were flying in from Florida for a golf outing today in honor of Len's 40th birthday. And, after a few days together in the couple's Caroline County home, the group was to travel to Christy's parents' house near Charlottesville for Thanksgiving.
But a fire in the early morning hours Friday ravaged the Spotsylvania County educators' home and nearly all of their belongings, dramatically altering their plans.
"We got out safe, so that was the main thing," said Len Carlson, who teaches physical education and is head boys basketball coach at Spotsylvania High School.
Christy Carlson is a physical education teacher and athletic trainer at Massaponax High School.
Christy Carlson's mother, Kathy Bagby, had arrived from Fluvanna County about 7 p.m. Thursday. She came to help the couple get their Ruther Glen house ready for the festivities.
She also helped watch the couple's 8-month-old daughter, Rilyn, amid the preparations.
After a busy evening, everyone was asleep by 10:30 p.m., Len Carlson said.
About 2 hours later, Christy Carlson woke her husband after she smelled smoke.
When they looked out the bedroom window they saw flames, and they headed to the other bedrooms to roust Bagby and grab Rilyn.
They all escaped unharmed before smoke overtook the single-story home with a basement.
They watched as firefighters battled the smoke and fire before the roof collapsed.
It was devastating, thinking of all that was lost, especially family memorabilia such as photographs, Len Carlson said.
But he and his wife were touched by the thoughtfulness of the firefighters, who grabbed a few items as they evacuated for their safety.
They rescued a frame containing Rilyn's hospital bracelet and another that displayed her footprints at birth.
They also brought out a photograph of Christy's grandmother, who died a year ago, and an American flag the family had displayed on one wall.
"We were pretty impressed," said Len Carlson, a military veteran, who paused in an effort to stop the tears.
As word spread through the Spotsylvania schools community Friday morning, employees began rallying to help.
Massaponax Principal Joe Pisani and Spotsylvania High Principal Rusty Davis coordinated the assistance. Their staffs began collecting gift cards to help the Carlsons and their baby girl.
They also decided to hold a benefit basketball game on Tuesday.
"They literally lost it all," Pisani said. "For an educated man, it's dumbfounding how fast the fire moved through the home and destroyed everything.
"The totality of it is amazing."
Carlson said his 40th-birthday celebration won't be the extravaganza his wife of nearly two years had planned but he's OK with that.
"We'll make the best of it," he said. "It's just going to be a little different."
He said what has been touching is how friends and family have helped them.
A relative offered to let them live temporarily in a vacant house she owns in Stafford County, and neighbors have provided blankets and toys and food for little Rilyn.
"It's really been amazing to see the show of support--how people rush out," Len Carlson said. "We've really been thankful for it."
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972
Spotsylvania and Massaponax high schools will hold a benefit basketball game on Tuesday
The game will be played at Massaponax High School
All money collected through ticket sales will go to the family. People can also bring gift cards and toys for 8-month-old Rilyn Carlson.
Pathway Church Pastor Dave Hockney said people may
Schools are open Monday and Tuesday this week before beginning the Thanksgiving holiday. Drop-off locations and times are:
Massaponax High School, 8201 Jefferson Davis Highway, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Spotsylvania High School, 6975 Courthouse Road,
School Board administration building, 8020 River Stone Drive, 7:15 a.m. to 5 p.m.