STATESBORO, Ga. (WSAV) – While at work on Christmas Eve, Austin Neal received a devastating call from his neighbor that his family home was on fire. Both Austin and his roommate Katherine were at work when the blaze, likely started by a faulty heater, began. 

They say the destruction they were met with when they got home has lasting impacts. 

“I mean there’s not really words that can describe what you feel in that moment it’s just like a pit that keeps hurting more and more,” said Neal. “I mean, it’s not the materials that were lost that matter as much, it’s just like the memories, it’s the things that you know can never be replaced because it’s covered in ash, it’s scorched.”

The home was purchased by Austin’s late grandfather and has been in the Neal family for almost 40 years. They are hoping to rebuild and honor his legacy. 

“We definitely want to rebuild because, like I said, we have a lot of great memories here and my dad always really loved this place and, you know, it makes us feel connected to him,” said Austin’s mother, Jennifer. 

Although many family heirlooms were lost, they say most of the families’ Christmas gifts were already out of the house. 

“I’m really thankful for that because, just waking up on Christmas that was the first thing on my mind, but I still wanted to try to go forward and make sure everyone got gifts as much as I could before having to face what the reality is,” said Austin. 

And for Katherine Brown — Austin’s roommate and lifelong friend — she says this experience has brought them closer together. 

“It’s comforting to know that we have each other, and we can talk about it and have the same feelings that we’ve been going through. It’s just comforting to have a leaning shoulder,” Brown said. 

Click here to visit the family’s GoFundMe page.