Falkville family loses century-old home in fire

Billy Tillman woke up early Feb. 2 to a loud popping noise and said he thought someone was breaking into his house. He soon discovered a fire was raging in the garage of the family home in Falkville that was more than 100 years old.

“I went to the back door – I thought someone was trying to break in, and my wife heard it too,” Tillman said. “We pulled the blinds down, and it looked like a towering inferno. The garage was fully engulfed in flames. I told her to get Hannah, our granddaughter, and get out. The door was so hot I couldn’t open it – it was that close.”

The house was a total loss. The Tillman family made it out with the clothes they were wearing and a handful of sentimental family photos. Two puppies did not survive.

“My great-granddaddy built that house at the turn of the century, around 1900,” Tillman said.

Tillman’s grandmother, Jessie Summerford, inherited it from his great-grandfather, and Billy Tillman bought it from her daughter and son-in-law, Owen and Gracie Penn.

While what was left of the old homeplace still smoldered, people in the community began to turn out in droves to offer Tillman and his wife Dianne their help.

“I woke up at 2 a.m., and there were people there at 4 a.m.,” he said. “My insurance agent, Nancy Hardin, called me at 4 a.m. asking if she could help.”

Before 8 a.m. the Town of Falkville shared the news on its official Facebook page and had started a campaign to aid the Tillman family.

“Our town slogan is not just that,” the post read. “We are a big family, and family loves and cares for those when they need it.

“Please help us help the Tillman family. We will be taking up gift cards to help them buy their essential needs. Examples of gift cards would be: Walmart, Dollar General, Kroger, clothing stores and Visa cards to be used wherever needed,” it continued.

The Town of Falkville will be accepting gift cards for the Tillman family throughout the month of February. Gift cards can be dropped off at Town Hall, located at 21 N. First Ave.

“We have had a huge outpouring of love, help and generosity. It’s pretty remarkable,” Tillman said, adding he isn’t keeping up with a total of monetary donations. “There are so many gift cards.”

“The Town of Falkville and everyone in that community has reached out to us and has been really, really great. It’s unbelievable,” he added.

“A lot of people in Hartselle have helped too. One guy came and stuck his hand in my pocket and after I left, I opened it up, and I saw it had $2,000 in it,” Tillman said through tears. “I don’t know what we would have done without people and their generosity.”

Tillman said he does have an insurance policy that will cover the total loss. The family plans to clean up and rebuild on the same place that has been family land for more than a century.

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