Lexi Wilkinson had been trying to spin a quarter on its edge for 20 minutes. When she finally got the hang of it, the 3-year-old wanted to show someone.
"Daddy, watch," Lexi said to her father Travis Bello.
Bello was more than thankful that he could oblige. The Army corporal and former Abingdon firefighter was not supposed to be sitting at home with his daughter until his official leave from the Army later this year or next. But when his the Army granted Bello an emergency leave to return to Bel Air until Nov. 30.
He was on base in Hawaii when he got the news of the fire. Luckily, his girlfriend, Sarah Wilkinson, and their daughter Lexi were not injured during the fire. Bello was not supposed to come home until as early as Christmas, if he was lucky, or as late as September 2011, when he is scheduled to be relocated to a base in Georgia.
But his arrival is the silver lining in the tragedy of the Wilkinson's house fire. Now he can spend Thanksgiving with his daughter and his girlfriend. It is a gift that no one appreciates more than Lexi.
"She was very excited. We didn't tell her that he was coming," Sarah said.
Bello is also glad to be home.
"Oh yeah. Definitely," he said. "After I found out they were OK and everything, my second concern was pretty much to get back here and make sure they were being taken care of correctly and getting whatever help they need."
Bello, with the genorosity of his peers, came back with some aid of his own.
"I went down for my final formation [Sunday] and [my first sergeant and company commander] pulled me out in front of formation and told everybody what's going on," Bello said. "They pulled about $500 for me together to bring back from the guys in my unit."
When he got home, he realized that family, friends and complete strangers had already pooled clothes, cash and gifts for Lexi, Sarah and Sarah's mother. That eased his mind and made such a quick return to base seem less painful.
"It makes it a lot easier. I mean if they weren't getting any support I'd be calling to extend my leave. I kind of expect this support from fire departments," Bello said. "Being that I'm a member, it's like a brotherhood. … But the way the community's helping is insane."
Sarah has needed the support as much as anyone. Bello reenlisted for five more years of service earlier this month, so his time at home will continue to be limited. But even before he came this week, he was comforting Sarah.
"He was just worried if we were OK and just kept reassuring me [over the phone] that everything in the house was just stuff," Sarah said.
Now she has learned that the most important things in life cannot be replaced.
"It has definitely made me more thankful. And you definitely learn to appreciate all the little things that you never even realized before," Sarah said. "Definitely the relationships that I have with all my friends and family."
This story is part one of three in a series involving the fire in Fountain Glen.
will be accepting donations on behalf of the Wilkinson's on Wednesday night.
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story mistakenly said that Wilkinson and her daughter were "not home during the fire." The article should have read "not injured during the fire." We regret the error.