‘It sounded like a freight train’

By on April 6, 2021

Harrowing and brave rescue from a Grandy fire

Laura Stalls and her gandson Lincoln Herslow. (Photo courtesy of Laura Stalls)

On the night of March 4, Laura Stalls had fallen asleep on the couch of the century-old farmhouse in Grandy she had renovated into “The Great White Hall” Airbnb bed & breakfast inn more than five years earlier. Due to COVID-19, Stalls hadn’t had guests at the inn for the past year. But Stall’s daughter, Alexandra (Alex) Stalls, and two grandchildren – two-year-old James and one-year-old Lincoln Herslow – had recently moved in and were asleep upstairs.

Shortly after midnight, Stalls woke to a loud bang in the back of the house, a noise she would quickly discover was a window being blown out from a fire that had erupted as she and her family slept. A harrowing 15 minutes followed as Stalls screamed for Alex and eventually ran up the stairs, through flames, to reach her daughter and the two grandsons upstairs.

“My steps to go upstairs are right at the back door, at the back porch of the house,” Stalls recalled during a Voice interview. “The flames were coming in and the only thing I could do was go through them to get to Alex and the babies. I was screaming and screaming, and they couldn’t hear me…I mean it sounded like a freight train, it was so loud.”

What ensued was a dramatic and brave rescue that ended up with Alexandra and her two sons uninjured, but with Stalls in Sentara Norfolk General Hospital with burns, some of them third-degree burns, covering about 20% of her body. After undergoing two skin graft surgeries, she was released exactly three weeks from the date of the fire.

In her recounting of the story, Alex said that when her mother reached her and the boys upstairs, the clothing on Stalls’ back and one arm were smoldering with flames that were quickly put out. Holding tightly to the boys and calming them by telling them they were going on a small adventure, the mother and daughter quickly climbed out a window onto the roof above the front porch.

After a few minutes of calling for help, they realized that on the desolate stretch of U.S. 158 in the middle of a cold and windy night, they could not afford to wait for help to arrive. Stalls, 53, jumped to an adjacent lower wing of the roof and climbed to the ground. Alex then dropped the two boys into Stalls’ open arms about eight feet below before jumping down herself.

The house was entirely engulfed in flames by the time first responders arrived, Stalls noted, and the family lost their two dogs. The home was a complete loss and the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Originally from the Virginia Beach area, Stalls, as well as Alex and her two boys, have found temporary housing back in that area – Stalls with a friend and Alex and her sons with her fiancé’s parents. With her business being shut down for a year due to COVID-19, recently laid off from her regular job a few weeks before the fire and with no health insurance, Stalls faces overwhelming medical bills.

“The house burned to the ground, there is nothing left… the only thing we got were the clothes off our backs – but those babies are safe, they didn’t get a burn on them and they’re doing great,” asserted Stalls, who in 2003 owned the Chick’s Beach Café in the Chick’s Beach neighborhood of Virginia Beach. Her restaurant, she added, served as a triage and refuge for people who were displaced due to a major fire that December that destroyed multiple homes along the Chesapeake Bay.

When asked what was going through her mind during the March 5 fire, Stalls said, “[Everyone] says you never know until you’re in that situation, but you don’t really think. You just look at the situation, assess and go. I never thought that I’m going to be on fire going up these steps. I just thought, ‘I have to get there to them, I have to get them no matter what.’”

James and Lincoln Herslow. (Photo courtesy of Laura Stalls)

For her part, Alex said that even though she and her mother lost all their possessions in the fire, the experience has allowed them, in a sense, to let go.

“It’s really changed both of our minds and our hearts about the way we felt about a lot of things,” acknowledged Alex.

“It’s really been an experience that has allowed us to move on in ways that we wouldn’t have otherwise. I think people need to know that just because things are tragedies, it doesn’t mean necessarily that they weren’t meant to happen.”

A Go Fund Me page has been started for the family.


Barnhill Building Group has been selected as the Construction Manager @ Risk by the College of the Albemarle and is seeking to pre-qualify construction trade contractors to submit bids for the furnishing labor, materials, equipment, and tools for the new College of The Albemarle – Allied Health Sciences Simulation Lab (COA Health Sciences) located in Elizabeth City, NC. Please note: Only subcontractors who have been prequalified by Barnhill will be able to submit a Bid.

The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

BP0390: Turnkey Concrete

BP0400: Turnkey Masonry

BP0500: Structural Steel & Misc. Steel

BP0740: Roofing

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

BP0800: Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware

BP0840: Glass & Glazing

BP0925: Drywall

BP0960: Resilient Flooring

BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

BP0990: Painting & Wallcovering

BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

BP1010: Signage

BP1098: Demountable Partitions

BP1230: Finish Carpentry and Casework

BP1250: Window Treatment

BP1400: Elevators

BP2100: Fire Protection

BP2200: Plumbing

BP2300: HVAC

BP2600: Turnkey Electrical

BP3100: Turnkey Sitework

BP3290: Landscaping

Packages may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager. Historically underutilized business firms are encouraged to complete participation submittals.

HUB/MWBE OUTREACH MEETING: Barnhill Building Group will be conducting a HUB/MWBE Informational Session. You are encouraged to attend the following session to learn more about project participation opportunities available to you. These seminars will help to: Learn about project and scope; Inform and train Minority/HUB contractors in preparation for bidding this project; Assist in registration on the State of North Carolina Vendor link; Stimulate opportunities for Networking with other firms. Location and time TBD. Please visit our planroom at https://app.buildingconnected.com/public/54da832ce3edb5050017438b for more information.

Interested contractors should submit their completed prequalification submittals, by July 22, 2024, to Meredith Terrell at mterrell@barnhillcontracting.com or hardcopies can be mailed to Barnhill Contracting Company PO Box 31765 Raleigh, NC 27622 (4325 Pleasant Valley Road, NC 27612).


See what people are saying:

  • Sandi

    Is there a way we can help her?? A Gofundme?

    Tuesday, Apr 6 @ 6:18 pm