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Friends reach out to family who lost home to fire

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By Jesef Williams

Nothing much remains of Denise McMurray’s brick house on Chandler Place.

Parts of the exterior look fine from afar. But once you step closer, ashes and smoke residue consume the interior.

The roof on the right side of the house is caved in, and the walls and ceilings are burned so badly that the house’s foundation is exposed.

McMurray’s single-story home is a total loss. It burned Sunday night in what officials call an accidental fire that started in the garage. The value of the home was $150,000.

McMurray said she had taken her 6-year-old goddaughter, Saniiya, out of the bathtub about 8:30 p.m. when she saw flames coming from the kitchen area. They were the only people in the house at the time.

She quickly dressed Saniiya, and the two rushed outside.

McMurray didn’t have time to grab her keys, pocketbook or cell phone. Saniiya didn’t even have shoes on. McMurray’s main concern was for them to get out safely. She went to a neighbor’s house, where she called 911.

“By the time we got out, the garage was fully blazing,” she said.

Gooches and McDonald Green volunteer fire departments responded, an incident report said. The Lancaster County’s fire investigation unit was also called to help determine a cause for the fire.

Darren Player, deputy director of Lancaster County Emergency Management and Fire Services, said the blaze started in the garage, but the cause remains undetermined.

Besides the house, two vehicles that were parked in the garage – a 1997 Ford Explorer and a 2002 Dodge Caravan – were totalled in the fire.

McMurray said the fire originated behind the Explorer. She believes some type of defect in that vehicle may have triggered the blaze.

The garage area suffered the most damage.

Helping hands

McMurray, a Lancaster native who had lived in that house for 30 years, said she has received many offers from family, neighbors and others to allow her and Saniiya to stay with them. Right now, McMurray’s insurance is paying for a motel room and rental car. She hopes to soon rent an apartment.

Venice McCain is one of McMurray’s neighbors who has helped out.

McCain wasn’t home when the fire started, but when she arrived, the flames were burning immensely. More than five fire trucks were on the scene, she said.

“Oh, man, it was huge,” McCain said about the blaze.

McCain and her daughter have bought Saniiya clothes, and before McMurray got a rental car, McCain took her around to get another driver’s license and handle other business.

“This is what neighbors should do when tragedy happens,” McCain said. “They need the love.”

The Lancaster County School District is also reaching out to McMurray and Saniiya in several ways.

McMurray has gotten support from staff at Southside Early Childhood Center, where she works with the Head Start program as a family service coordinator.

Faculty and students at North Elementary School are collecting money and supplies for McMurray and Saniiya, who is a kindergartner at the school.

Teachers are pitching in to buy them a gift card, and the kindergarten class will hold a shower today for Saniiya.

“They’re part of our family here at North,” Principal Linda Blackwell said. “There are so many things that they’re going to need.”

McMurray said that generosity from the community has been comforting in this time of despair.

“That’s what has gotten me through, and my faith in God,” McMurray said. “It’s nice to know that we live in such a great community.”

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com or 283-1152