Columbia veteran loses everything in camper fire

Navy veteran in Columbia loses everything in home trailer fire.
Published: Nov. 15, 2023 at 6:45 PM CST
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COLUMBIA, Miss. (WDAM) - As millions of Americans celebrated Veterans’ Day on Friday, James Watkins and family friends were doing anything but that.

For Watkins, the events that took place over the course of just eight minutes likely will forever be ingrained in his brain.

Watkins, a United States Navy veteran who served in the Vietnam War, had his life turned upside down in that short span after his camper went up in flames and burnt to the ground, taking everything he owned along with it.

“I sat down,” Watkins said. “I just couldn’t believe it. It’s all gone.”

Family on the property who also witnessed the fire had to stand by as they watched Watkins’ home perish.

“Me and my husband had gotten in our van, and we were headed towards town and we got a call from Unk, and Unk said Poppy’s (Watkins) trailer is on fire,” said family friend Leslie Vines. “So, I said go get my fire extinguisher from my camper and put the fire out.

“We pulled it and (the trailer) was just in flames. Poppy was standing over there just looking at it all upset, and we tried to put it out, but there wasn’t any saving it. We waited for the fire department to get here but the camper was already gone.”

It was an emotional day for all, but especially for Watkins, who experienced yet another life-altering event.

After losing his wife in 2020, Watkins lost his daughter just two years later.

Now, he once again finds himself starting completely over.

“He had just lost everything that he had worked his whole life for, his whole history was in that camper, and it went up in flames,” Vines said.

As investigators work to discover what caused the devastating fire, Vines said she’s told it was likely due to an electrical issue.

“He had a deep freezer, coffee pot and refrigerator plugged up, but the hottest point of the camper was where the deep freeze was plugged up at,” Vines said.

For Watkins, the day took everything he had, from his home to all his personal belongings.

“It’s all gone,” Watkins said. “There’s no way of getting it back

“I’ve got pictures of my dead wife, I’ve got a few, but my wedding stuff and my military stuff, there’s no way of getting that stuff back. You’ve just got to move forward.”

A few days later, Watkins is already working towards the future, picking up what used this be his home, piece by piece, as he works to rebuild his life.

Vines has created a GoFundMe to help Watkins get his life back on track after the devastating events that took place.

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