The Gernatt family was awakened just after midnight Sunday morning to find their detached garage on fire. The blaze ripped through to the family’s 4,500-square-foot home destroying everything in its way, including six automobiles, a boat and a trailer.
It took 10 fire trucks and 26 Cobb firefighters to combat the fire at the house on Bob Cox Road between Dallas Highway and Burnt Hickory Road. The cause of the fire is still unknown but appeared to be accidental, said Daniel Dupree, spokesman for Cobb Fire Department.
A 7-month-old baby and a 2-year-old were in the home but no one was injured.
Tom Gernatt and wife, Melanie, along with his eight siblings are Cobb natives and graduates of Wheeler High School. Their five children also graduated from Cobb schools, three attending Walton High School and two attending Kell High School.
They have 13 grandchildren with a 14th on the way.
Tom Gernatt, a local homebuilder, said it’s overwhelming to think the family has lost all of their possessions. Those losses include the tools he spent 40 years collecting that lined his garage workshop.
“I can go buy new ones, but they won’t have the same story,” he said.
The upper-middle class family isn’t used to asking for help.
“We have always been people who didn’t need much. Now we’re in need. It’s humbling,” said Tom Gernatt, who owns the home with his wife.
As he stood in the yard of his 10-year home on Monday surveying its charred remains, Tom Gernatt tried to find a silver lining while holding back tears.
“It’s just been a remarkable experience for us,” he said.
Donations of clothing, vehicles, food and a place to stay have poured in since early Sunday morning. The couple’s church, Cedarcrest Church in Acworth, took an offering to help the family.
Tom Gernatt has been astounded by the compassion of his neighbors.
“I had people handing me gift cards and I don’t even know who they are,” he said.
The family has two vehicles to use until they get back on their feet, loaned by Day Chevrolet in Acworth.
Andrew Diemer, principal at the dealership’s Jasper location, attends a Bible study with the Gernatts and called them a “giving couple.”
“This was kind of just close to the heart to us,” said Diemer, who loaned the cars to the couple along with his brother Daniel, principal at the Acworth dealership.
Firefighters and strangers have also stopped to pray with the family.
“God has totally blessed us,” said Melanie Gernatt, standing on the porch of her home Monday collecting items that were salvageable.
A stranger passed the home Sunday on her way to church and saw the destruction, Tom Gernatt said, and returned with coffee and cinnamon rolls for the family.
“That’s what just amazed me,” Tom Gernatt said.
Many people don’t stop or offer help, he said, because they fear they won’t be able to make a difference, but that woman lifted the family’s spirits with just coffee and pastries.
Still, Tom Gernatt said he wants to put the tragedy behind him, move on and make new memories.
But that’s proving difficult as the family cannot begin cleanup until an insurance adjuster examines the damage.
“I had a claim number at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning,” he said.
As of Monday afternoon, the family had not heard back from their insurance agency, Allstate.
“Fortunately we have the community that’s rallied around us and they weren’t paid to do it,” Tom Gernatt said.
Daniel Groce, Allstate spokesman, said late Monday afternoon the company has been in touch with the family.