By Johnny Jackson
Seated at the end of a table, slowly sipping a cup of coffee, Stockbridge resident Leroy Berry said, "Man, it's great to be home."
Berry's 20-year-old house was destroyed by fire last March, along with most of his possessions. He lost cherished photos of his 12-year-old daughter, Cierra Berry, who lives in New York City, and says he can't wait to rebuild his collection of mementos.
"What I miss most is my daughter's photos," said Berry, a 20-year veteran of the Air Force Reserve. "Those are things I can't get back."
One of Berry's neighbors discovered the blaze on a Saturday evening while Berry was out of town.
Except for a few of his badly-damaged car show and basketball trophies, most of what Berry had collected over the years was destroyed in the fire.
"At the same time, I was going through a divorce," he said. "I was really supported by friends and family. A lot of my neighbors have been supportive."
Last June, Berry began rebuilding his home to be more eco-friendly and energy efficient. He took on the task himself, acting as general contractor for the seven-month project. He is disabled and retired from Ford Motor Company, which allowed him time to devote to rebuilding.
He moved into the house late last December and was able to eat Christmas dinner with his daughter in their new home.
At 3,800 square feet, Berry's new two-story house has three bedrooms and four bathrooms, upstairs and downstairs kitchens, a game room, a dining room, a bar, a one-car garage, and two screened-in decks.
"Don't try to tackle this on your own," he said. "Some parts were smooth, and some parts weren't. It's all a lot of hard work."
Rebuilding after a fire is difficult for many families, according to Henry County Fire Department Capt. Sabrina Puckett.
"Preventing fires from happening is part of Henry County Fire Department's mission," Puckett said. "But when someone does experience the devastation of losing their home and has been able to pick up the pieces and rebuild, it definitely brings joy to those who see and know the pain homeowners must feel as their water- and soot-filled belongings are pulled from their destroyed homes."
Fire officials encourage residents to mindful of the placement of space heaters and other potentially dangerous appliances.
"Henry County Fire Department would like to remind citizens of the importance of having working smoke alarms and encourages all citizens to take preventative measures to decrease their fire risk and increase their safety," Puckett said.
Berry plans to host a barbecue this spring for his neighbors, friends, family, and those who have helped him through the process of rebuilding.
"It's not by my strength, it's by the grace of God," said Berry. "He's seen me through this crisis."