Geneva Fisher only left her house Sept. 24 to buy chicken to go with the shrimp dinner she was preparing.
She returned to find her stove ablaze and her home filled with smoke.
She forgot to turn off the stove.
Fisher and her daughter, a 17-year-old junior at , ran inside the Sandy Lane home to rescue their small dog from the bedroom — something she admitted she should not have done — and then called 911.
Clearwater firefighters put out the flames before they caused any structural damage to the home, but toxic carbon monoxide-laden smoke and soot rendered it unlivable and her licensed home child care business inoperable.
“Funny how you can be sitting here today, blink your eye and everything just gone,” she said.
Fisher, 47, said her home insurance should cover the damage but not the expenses incurred from losing her business, which takes up most of her home.
Fisher, the mom, is now homeless and jobless. She worries about meeting her bills and mortgage payments. She worries for her teenage daughters, Kei-Kei and Dei-Dei, who are struggling with being displaced.
"Ms. Jenny," the childcare provider, worries about rebuilding with no certain timeframe for getting the business up and running again. She worries about who is going to look after the children she typically watches.
Fisher, originally from Tarpon Springs, moved to the North Greenwood neighborhood with her husband and five children 15 years ago. (Three of her children are now grown.) She managed a 32-bed health facility in Tarpon Springs for a long time, then drove school buses with Pinellas County for four years, a job she enjoyed. She said her husband left 10 years ago and she has run the large family child care facility out of her modest 1,270-square-foot home ever since.
Fisher is known for her generous nature. She has taken in children, several at reduced rates, because she knows they come from hardship backgrounds. She has even paid some of her clients’ electric bills during especially hard times.
Much of her house — except for the family bedrooms — has been converted into toddler-friendly play zones. Board games and small toy bins are organized on shelves in the living room. Children’s art adorns the windows and walls. Even the backyard is for children; it’s littered with tiny bikes and toys and features a life-sized playhouse.
“It took me 10 years to get it like this,” Fisher said in a tone of dispair as she surveyed soot-covered items in the infant changing room.
She shared her vision for the property. She pointed to a fenced-off area outside that would someday be a separate building for her childcare operation. Then, she could reclaim her home for personal use, in case her adult children want to visit on holidays.
Fisher hopes her home will be livable again in three months. She is unsure about the future of her child care business.
“I just got me a shelter,” she said Oct. 7. A faithfully optimistic smile spread across her face. “I am so blessed... They’ve pulled me out of worse."
Fisher learned about Red Cross resources only after the three-day emergency threshold, and has relied on social services and the generosity of others since the blaze. She and her daughters stayed with a friend for the first couple weeks. Fisher expressed heartfelt gratitude for the gas and food card donations she has received so far.
“I feel so ashamed and so embarrassed,” Fisher said.
She turned her head and pressed her lips, attempting to hold back tears.
“The hardest thing is,” she paused, tears now rolling down her cheeks, her voice lowered to a whisper, “I don’t know how to receive.”