Trace Adkins: Our House Went Up in Flames

Before lunch on a hot Tennessee day, Trace Adkins’s girls Trinity, 6, and Brianna, 9, jostle for position in his lap as he fumbles with a handheld fan. “You’re doing it wrong!” says Trinity, giggling as Dad wraps them up in his huge arms.

It’s a small moment, but it’s the kind the country star has been cherishing since a June 4 fire ravaged their Brentwood, Tenn., house. His three daughters with wife Rhonda (the oldest, MacKenzie, is 13) were home with their nanny when a faulty power strip in the garage sparked the inferno; they fled to safety, but not before Brianna and a neighbor went back to rescue her two Australian shepherd pups. “The fire gave us a greater appreciation for what we do have: our family,” says Adkins, whose new album Proud To Be Here (presciently titled before the blaze) echoes that gratitude. “We’re blessed that everybody’s okay.”

And thankful they had somewhere to turn: Adkins, Rhonda and their girls moved into their weekend cabin about 45 minutes south of Nashville. “We’re lucky to have another place so it wasn’t as traumatic as it is for other families,” he says of the cabin-seen in his latest video, “Just Fishin'”-which has one bedroom and some bunk beds downstairs. Though half the size of their old home, “it’s not as cramped as you’d think, because we don’t have any stuff anymore.”

The day of the fire, Rhonda, 47, was driving home when she saw the thick black plumes. Panicking the rest of the way, she arrived to find the girls in shock. “They were yelling, ‘Mommy!'” she says. “I said, ‘It’s just stuff!’ I wanted to be positive. But I couldn’t believe it was all gone so quick.”

Adkins, meanwhile, was on a plane to Alaska, unreachable for hours. “When I landed, I turned my phone on and it blew up with texts and missed calls,” he recalls. Adkins’s road manager, who had gotten his messages more quickly, broke the news that the house had gone up in flames. “I thought about slapping him, ’cause that ain’t something you joke about,” admits Adkins. “Then I saw he was serious. I was terrified.” A few awful minutes went by before he got hold of Rhonda and heard no one was hurt. “This incredible relief comes over you,” he says. “When everybody you love is okay, it doesn’t matter that everything else you had burned up.”

The singer says he processed the loss during his flight home, but the kids have had a tougher time. “The hardest thing is missing their friends,” says Adkins. What’s helping them cope are some salvaged family photos and toys (such as a stuffed lamb Trinity says “smells like burnt hot dogs”) as well as plans to build a new home not far from the old one.

With tour dates looming, Adkins is torn about being away. “It’s important for me to be a physical presence for the kids right now,” he says. “I have guilt about not being there during the fire. I could’ve put it out-or tried.” For now, he and Rhonda are happy to remind the girls how much they’re loved. “Rebuilding will take time,” says Adkins. “We’re still in the stage of hugging each other. A lot!”

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