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Linda and Darrell Aldridge stood back against their garage and watched as firefighters from five different fire departments fought a blaze that engulfed their Bagdad home Wednesday afternoon.
As their belongings and longtime catering business went up in flames, the couple did not have to face the tragedy alone. Family and friends had rushed to the scene as soon as they heard about the fire, including their son, Tony Aldridge, a captain at the Shelby County Detention Center, surrounded them.
“I live just next door,” Tony Aldridge said, pointing to a home situated a small distance away – his grandmother lives beside the couple.
The Aldridges have lived in the rural area northeast of Bagdad for decades and operated their catering business at their home at 2164 Cedarmore Road for 38 years.
They had been in Frankfort on a catering job when the fire broke out, Tony Aldridge said.
By the time they returned home at 4 p.m., firefighters had put out most of the flames and were concentrating on getting the still smoldering interior of their brick home under control.
“It’s a total loss,” said Rob Rothenburger, Shelby County Judge-Executive and captain with the Bagdad Fire Department.
Linda Aldridge drew a long, shuddering breath, but managed to hold back tears as she stood watching the activity around the back of the house, where smoke still poured out of the eaves, doors and windows, and water could be seen dripping and running inside the home through broken windows and ruined walls.
“This is just heart breaking – my whole life is in there,” she said.
The Aldridges, who are currently staying next door to the ruble with her mother, Dorothy Bohannon, operated the All The Way Shoppe catering business located in the basement of the home where the fire broke out, said Bagdad Fire Chief Rusty Newton.
He said he does not know the cause of the fire, but that it stared in the basement where three catering employees were working when it broke out.
“They smelled something that didn’t smell quite right, and then one of them went back to get something out of the office and discovered the fire,” he said, adding that the employees called 911 and got out of the house.
Linda Aldridge said that one of the three people in the home was her mother, who had come over to help out with the catering. She said she was just so grateful that none of them were hurt.
Tony Aldridge looked around at the firefighters – 50 in all – as well as EMS and Red Cross personnel, and neighbors who were starting to drift in.
“I can’t believe how many people are here to help,” he said. “I just want everyone to know how much I appreciate that.”
By Thursday, Linda Aldridge was back at the scene of the fire, trying to see what she could salvage.
“Everybody has just been great,” she said. “There’s been a whole passel here today, my two brothers and their two wives and my two sons and one of their wives; my other son couldn’t make it in from Florida. The neighbors have been coming in, and some friends out of Cynthiana have been here. It hit Facebook so hard last night, and everybody was calling, saying I saw this on The Sentinel-News [Website]. I can’t see it [Facebook] because I don’t have a computer right now, but we’ve had phone calls from everywhere.”
The Aldridges have a large client base that includes a number of government entities and other businesses, some of whom expressed sorrow at the couple’s plight.
“It’s just devastating, that was the first thing I heard when I got to the office this morning, the entire staff was talking about it,” said David Thompson, executive director of the Kentucky Press Association.
“They’ve done the staff Thanksgiving luncheons for the past ten or fifteen years at least, and they always fill any special requests we have – I just love her chicken salad. They’re so pleasant to work with, I just hope they have a quick recovery from this. We are thinking about them, they are highly thought of by a lot of people, not only us. We were very saddened to hear about this.”
Jessie Luscher with the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy said that the Aldridges had been scheduled to cater a meal for them Thursday and that Linda had taken the time to call her from the scene of the fire, even as her home was burning, to tell her she had to cancel.
“She had just gotten home and she called us – even with all the fire trucks still there – to tell us she couldn’t make it; that’s how considerate she is,” she said. “She is just a wonderful, wonderful lady.”
Linda Aldridge said that she and her husband are hoping to be back in business again, at least to some extent, by next week because officials at Bagdad Ruritan Club have offered to let them run the business from there until they get back on their feet.
“We’re going to try to get up and running because we have so many board meetings to do, and I’ve got workers  that need a job, and so do I,” she said.
She wasn’t able to save any of the home’s furnishings, she said, except for some crystal and silver pieces, but had found four shirts and a pair of pants in the garage – that’s all the clothing she has. But she said she was encouraged that some of the catering equipment is salvageable, including some hot boxes, and seven out of nine stainless steel tables.
“It’s bad when you lose your home and it’s bad when you lose your business, but when you lose both of them, it’s horrible, just horrible,” she said. “I was just two payments away from having all of this paid off and now we’re starting over,” she said.
“The hardest thing about this for me is getting over the fear – I’ve always had a fear of fire – and now it’s worse. And all the photos and memories in that house – all gone.
“But at least we’re getting our regular phone back again [catering phone 747-8897], so that’s good. We have insurance; it won’t cover everything, but it’ll get us back where we can live. Just give me a bed and a pillow and I’ll be a happy camper.”
She paused, and then added: “But the one thing we need the most is something we have already been getting all along – plenty of prayers. That means more to us than anything else.”