A groom-to-be turned a very unfortunate situation into a positive when he proposed to his girlfriend on the same night their dream home burned down.
On the evening of Sept. 4, Sean Matthews got down on one knee and asked Kellie Stanley to marry him. The proposal happened right outside their home in Fuquay-Varina, N.C.
“I knew we wouldn’t be back at the house again for months and months, if not a year,” Matthews told Fox News in a phone interview.
He went on, “Having her family there and some friends and neighbors, I knew it would be the last time that we would all be able to be at our home for a long time. I felt strongly that I wanted to leave with her as my fiancée.”
Stanley said she hadn’t expected a marriage proposal considering the circumstance they were in. It had been five or six hours after the blaze took hold of their home and fire marshals had cleared the scene at the end of the night.
“Sean just gathered us all in the driveway at the end of the night to give a speech and thank everyone for being there for us. As he’s giving the speech, in my head I’m trying to think of what I’m going to say,” Stanley recalled. “But, then the entire conversation shifted, and he just started talking about how we started and how we built this house last year.”
She went on, “We moved in and his whole goal – which I hadn’t known at the time – but his whole goal was to propose to me in the house because the house means a lot to us.”
Earlier in the day, Matthews and Stanley had decided to go out for dinner. Around 6:30 p.m. they received a Ring doorbell video call from a frantic neighbor, who said their front porch was on fire.
Matthews and Stanley rushed home from their destination, which was about 10 to 15 minutes away, while neighbors worked to rescue their 13-year-old dog Memphis and cut off gas lines to prevent a potential explosion.
Stanley believes they were lucky to not have locked the interior door in their garage that day because it helped neighbors to get Memphis out unharmed. The garage code also worked despite the fire, which allowed for a swift and efficient rescue.
From other security cameras they had stationed in the area, Matthews and Stanley were able to see how so many members of their community stepped up and tried to battle the blaze with garden hoses until firefighters got there.
“Just seeing that our neighbors came together to try and save our home and save our dog, you can’t put it into words,” Stanley said. “We were probably 10 minutes from home and we could see the black billowing smoke in the air.”
When the fire was put out, Matthews and Stanley were allowed to enter so they could retrieve anything that was salvageable.
Matthews recovered the engagement ring he kept in their fireproof safe and Stanley found her bible was one of the few items to survive the fire.
“We might’ve lost the house but we left with Memphis, and that meant more to us. I wanted to make the best of things and see the silver lining,” Matthews said. “And it is a humbling experience to leave your home with essentially a car and the clothes that you’re wearing.”
Stanley noted that their unique engagement has created a few “awkward” encounters.
“People don’t know what to say. They go, ‘Sorry for you losing your house, but congratulations.’ We feel the same way,” she said. “But, it definitely turned the night around for us and made something positive out of it instead of focusing on the tragedy.”
The couple “bounced around” between hotel rooms and homes of family members “a couple times” before they settled in a friend’s house. They will be moving into an apartment in October and will remain there until their home can be bulldozed and rebuilt.
Their neighbor, Amanda Mangum, has set up a GoFundMe to help Matthews and Stanley with their transition.
Fire marshals at the Fuquay-Varina Fire Department are still investigating what could have caused the fire, Matthews told Fox News. They had lived in the home for a year and two weeks.
“Our home was brand new. Most of the items in the house were also brand new and we are currently awaiting our original builder to provide us with an estimate, so hopefully, we can get them to rebuild our house,” Stanley said. “We’re hoping that we get that information fairly shortly, so we can start construction and they told us it would be probably five to six months before we’d be back at home.”
“We hope lumber prices and inflation and the housing market right now,” Matthews added. “We’re a little worried what their number is going to come back at. So, that’s just one of the big puzzles that we’re currently trying to navigate through.”
From this experience, Matthews and Stanley say families should have a fire plan that includes more fire extinguishers and smoke detectors than you think you need.
“Our smoke alarms did not go off in the home. The fire was on the screen porch and our screen porch is gabled, so it went up into the attic first. And once he got into the attic, it liquefied any mechanical and electrical components up there,” Stanley explained. “So, by the time the smoke had penetrated the conditioned space of the home where the actual smoke alarms were, they were already dead.”
She added, “We’ve been since told by the fire marshal that if we had been in the home asleep, we probably would not have survived because we would have never woken up.”
The couple also recommends investing in a larger fire safe that can hold all the possessions that are dear to your heart.
“There are a lot of items that we didn’t have in our fire safe that we can never get back. Items from our grandparents who have since passed away. Photo albums from years back,” Stanley said. “Again, I know they’re just items, but there are some items that can’t be replaced such as those and that’s a hard pill to swallow.”