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Blaze destroyed families' property and peace of mind

February 09, 2001|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Blaze destroyed families' property and peace of mind



A January electrical fire that destroyed the home where Paula Leaf had lived for 25 years and claimed the lives of several family pets also robbed her of her peace of mind.

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"She's afraid to leave the house. When we go shopping she wants to go home - it's an uneasy feeling," said Leaf's friend Alisa Hayes.

Leaf was out running errands with Hayes and Hayes' daughter Carli Harris, 12, on Jan. 4. They were gone for fewer than 90 minutes, but in that time a track light in the finished basement shorted out, sparking a fire.

The resulting electrical fire raced through the ranch-style home on Nursery Road in Halfway, destroying much of the first story where Leaf, her husband Frank, and daughter Jessica lived. A downstairs apartment occupied by Hayes and Harris was gutted.

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Damage was estimated at $115,000.

"The devastation and destruction a fire brings into your life is indescribable. The aftermath is almost as terrifying as being in the middle of the blackened, smoke-filled, house," Paula Leaf wrote of the fire's impact.

Losing their pets was a blow, Hayes said.

Hayes and Paula Leaf managed to save three cats and a dog but five other dogs and three cats perished.

"Carli ran inside and whoosh," she was enveloped in smoke, said Hayes.

Hayes and Paula Leaf followed Carli inside and were soon disoriented and choking, she said.

Being in the house while the fire raged, "was terrifying," said Hayes.

As they searched for their pets, firefighters from the Volunteer Fire Co. of Halfway arrived and began trying to pull the women out of the burning building.

"We know it was wrong," said Paula Leaf who had turned off the thermostat and smashed windows to let the smoke escape.

More than 25 firefighters worked for an hour to get the fire under control and stayed at the scene for more than five hours, Halfway firefighter Alan Matheny said.

"You couldn't see your hand in front of your face and the heat was unbelievable," he said.

Matheny said he understands why the women ran inside but advises against it.

"Once you're out. Stay out," he said.

Paula Leaf, Hayes and Harris were briefly hospitalized with smoke inhalation.

"I'm really grateful. Everybody got out without serious injuries, it could have been a lot worse," said Frank Leaf.

Without a home of their own, Leaf's family and friends were forced to separate indefinitely. They've been staying with relatives and are searching for a three-bedroom apartment near Boonsboro schools to live in while they rebuild.

So far they've had no luck, said Paula Leaf.

Hayes said the belongings she and her daughter were able to salvage fit into two recycling bins.

"In a fire you lose the things that define you as a person, things you collect over a lifetime," she said.

The Leaf's were luckier. They managed to save some heirloom furniture. In 1989 they built an addition onto the home and had recently redecorated every room in the house.

"Sometimes it's overwhelming when you think about losing everything you've acquired over the past 25 years," said Frank Leaf.

The Leaf family said they lament the loss of family photos and other keepsakes. Their daughter Tasha's baby book was found floating in water but they're trying to salvage it, they said.

"My wedding dress was charred but our lives were spared," said Paula Leaf.

The Hayes and Leafs said they were thankful for the help offered them, both on the day of the fire and afterward.

"So many people have helped us. People we don't even know," said Hayes.

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