CRESTVIEW — Friends, family and the American Red Cross are helping Cecil Milstead, 50, after a Dec. 19 fire destroyed his home.
Milstead was running errands when family, friends and fire officials called him with the news: his north Hathaway Street home of nearly 20 years was in flames.
Since the incident, which caused $14,000 in damage, friends, family and the American Red Cross have provided necessities.
The Red Cross arranged for a week’s stay at a local hotel and gave Milstead $200 for food, medication and other necessities.
Friends and family have donated clothes and money.
"I have got plenty of clothes; for the most part, I'm good," Milstead said.
Employees at the Crestview Public Services Department, Milstead's former employer, mostly contributed Wal-Mart shopping cards.
Milstead — who’s staying with his brother in Holt — expressed gratitude for the community’s help.
"I lost everything ... I don't know what I would have done without them," he said. "It’s good to have friends like that."
Most of all, he is thankful he is alive.
"I thank the Lord for me not being inside the house, (while it was in flames)," he said.
Milstead — who recently started drawing disability and social security benefits — said he couldn’t afford homeowners insurance premiums.
To make matters worse, thieves took advantage of the situation, stealing a dishwasher and a fire-damaged lawnmower and bicycle from his yard, he said. He reported the incident to police.
"You have to be real sorry to steal from someone whose house has just burned down," Milstead said.
Still, he considers what might have happened if he were home during the incident.
"For two nights, I had nightmares about it," Milstead said, adding he imagined being engulfed in flames.
"I would stay awake two, three hours at a time. I couldn't sleep because I was dreaming about it," he said.
Milstead will obtain a city permit to demolish the structure he once called home. He plans to replace it with a doublewide mobile home.
"I'm going to start from scratch and build myself back up," he said.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Matthew Brown at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbMatthew.