Family mourns lost memories after fire at $2.6M Friendswood mansion

FRIENDSWOOD, Texas (KTRK) -- Lighting was ruled as the cause of a fire last week, that turned a sprawling Friendswood mansion into ruins. Built in the 80's, it was a house that became an event venue until Darryl and Linda Wischnewsky bought it eight years ago.

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The couple walked outside what had been a 3-story, 15,000 square feet home, looking at a landscape of charred building material and burned furniture.

"That had been the library," said Linda. "It had things like photographs of my great grandparents, and a collection of rare books."

She and the couple's adult son were home last Thursday night, when a storm with heavy lightning passed through.

"We watched the Astros game, and then went to sleep," she said. "He came downstairs and said, 'Mom, you have to see this.' When I walked in the hallway, the smoke was already getting thick."

They ran outside and waited for firefighters. Crews arrived, but because of the continued lightning strikes, they couldn't deploy the ladder truck to direct water to the roof.

The soaring chimneys are unstable and the couple says it's dangerous to go inside, fearing a burst of wind could bring down what's still standing.

"It's the memories," Linda said. "There were watercolor paintings that my grandmother made. Things from when we were children, and pictures over the years that we no longer have."

She and her husband are owners of the Bayway Auto Group, which has six car dealerships around the Houston area.
"It's a huge bump in the road for us," Darryl said. "This is the first day I've actually looked at this."

A near-tragedy years ago, he said, made this loss easier to endure.

"Our son got hurt so badly as a child they thought he wouldn't make it through the night. Money won't fix that. You're not going to talk your way out of that. This is different."

It is different because there is insurance, but even that won't replace the personal possessions, the family heirlooms that were reduced to ash.

The home had five bedrooms, a library, a large craft room, where days before, Linda and her friends had been making items for a charity event.

"It teaches you what is important, and that's the family," Linda said. "I think back that if my son hadn't been awakened by the smoke, he might have died."

It's also a reminder how life can change in a moment, the time it takes a bolt of lightning to strike. The sense of loss that follows is the same for a person who lives in a small house, or a family that lives in a large one.

It's called starting over. For now, the Wischnewsky family is deciding whether their new life will be to rebuild what was lost, or somewhere else.

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