CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Panthers coach Ron Rivera has more to worry about this week than his team’s upcoming NFC playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks after an overnight fire at his home left his family displaced on Monday.
The Rivera family’s 7,000-square-foot, two-story Charlotte home sustained “significant” damage from an early morning blaze that spewed heavy smoke and fire from the attic two days after Carolina’s 27-16 playoff victory over Arizona.
No one was injured in the two-alarm blaze, which took about an hour to extinguish.
The Charlotte Fire Investigative Task Force determined the cause of the “accidental fire” to be a fireplace inside the home and estimated the damages at approximately $500,000.
“The big thing is we’re all right,” Rivera said. “This opportunity to work and continue to work is very reassuring. It could have been worse. It’s kind of like (the movie) ‘It’s A Wonderful Life,’ You see things through a different set of eyes now.”
Rivera and his wife, Stephanie, along with his two brothers and their wives were in the house sleeping at the time of the fire. All made it out safely along with two family pets.
Rivera suspected the fire might have started in a gas fireplace, located on the opposite side of the master bedroom wall where he and Stephanie were sleeping. He said they both awoke when they smelled smoke. He repeatedly stressed at his news conference the importance of having a home security system or smoke alarms, saying it probably helped save his family’s life.
Rivera said the master bedroom, family room and living room are “pretty close to being destroyed” and the insurance company estimates it will take six to eight months before they’ll be able to return to the home.
He said they will stay in a friend’s private house while waiting for the house to be rebuilt.
Charlotte Fire Department Capt. Rob Brisley said at a news conference Monday that “we were able to keep the damage to a minimum, meaning a lot of their household items are safe.”
Rivera now has to shift gears to focus preparation on the biggest game of his head coaching career Saturday night against the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks on the other side of the country.
Rivera didn’t arrive at the stadium until Monday afternoon — several hours later than he planned — after dealing with the aftermath of the fire.
Rivera doesn’t believe the fire will be a distraction to his preparation this week.
He said his coaching staff has already prepared for Seattle and “I’m the only one that has to catch up.”
This is the second significant off-the-field issue to hit the Panthers in less than a month.
Quarterback Cam Newton was injured in a two-vehicle accident Dec. 9 and was hospitalized overnight with two fractures in his lower back. Newton missed one game, but was able to return the following week.
Earlier this offseason, Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy was convicted on two counts of domestic violence and hasn’t played since the first week of the season while he’s remained on the commissioner’s exempt list.
Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen called it a bizarre season.
“Every year has its own story. Ever year has its own series of events that are hard to predict,” Olsen said.
“But a car accident involving your starting quarterback and your head coach’s house catching fire — those are things I don’t think anyone anticipates being a part of your story. For whatever reason this has been our year for out of the ordinary events.”
Said Rivera: “It has been different. You can’t make this stuff up.”
Veteran safety Roman Harper said he doesn’t believe the fire will be a distraction for Rivera, who is 32-31-1 in the regular season and 1-1 in the postseason since taking over in Carolina in 2011.
“Coach Rivera will be fine,” Harper said. “I know he won’t let it get in the way of what we’re trying to accomplish as a team.”
After reports of the fire emerged, Rivera texted members of his coaching staff and told them his family was fine and had them pass along a message to players that “it’s business as usual.”
Brisley called the damage to the house significant.
“Anytime you are faced with a fire and your family is displaced it is significant for the homeowner and it is significant for the family,” Brisley said. “We are just grateful that there are no injuries.”
Fire officials reported seeing heavy smoke and fire coming from the house when they arrived. Television video showed blackened windows in the attic of the home.
The Panthers did not practice Monday, but players did come into the stadium for some team meetings and a few stopped by to speak with reporters.
“We have to remain focused on the on-the-field stuff,” linebacker Thomas Davis said. “We have a great opportunity ahead of us right now. With coach Rivera’s situation we are thankful no one got hurt. But a house is a materialistic thing that can be replaced. When you lose a life or someone gets hurt it’s hard to replace that.”