LITTLE HOLLYWOOD — A fire and alleged scam has one woman struggling to get by.

Joyce Riley moved to Graham County’s Little Hollywood area at the beginning of 2019 and invested $4,000 into the purchase of what she hoped would be her future home. Shortly afterward, however, everything literally went up in smoke.

In May, Riley’s camper ignited after an inexpensive candle caught her room on fire while she slept. However, this was only the beginning of her trouble. Not only did the fire claim one of her animals and injured her, she would also find out that her home was not truly hers.

“I found out my papers were never recorded. I was scammed by a gentleman who does not even own my property. I paid $4,000,” Riley said. “There are squatters in Little Hollywood. We are not one of them; my intentions were to clean this place up and make it look nice. When the firefighters arrived when my place caught on fire, I was screaming at them to hurry up. When the fire department got there, they were just standing around. They could have saved my front camper, and I don’t understand why they didn’t. Where is the human compassion? This could have happened to anybody.”

Riley told the Courier she feels like she has been singled out by the county and community members as a squatter. However, she stressed she is an upstanding member of the community.

“It’s not about me, but now I need to fight this legally. I will press charges,” she said. “Back here, some people really made it a mess; it’s disgusting, and I’m petrified that the county will go in and purchase the property that I thought I owned. I had a tragedy and we lost a lot in the fire. I feel like the community is singling us out and labeling us.”

Riley told the Courier her fiance had even paid someone to establish a well on the property, which has since been turned off. However, Riley also told the Courier that she has recently been given legal advice to have a report filed with the Graham County Sheriff’s Office and will promptly have it begin an investigation into the individual who posed as the landowner.

“I’ve never been around this kind of ugly,” Riley said. “I live in a beautiful location and I love it. I just wanted to live happily ever after. I want to leave and go to the store without worrying about someone stealing something. It’s been overwhelming.”

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