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Christmas Eve fire displaces family

December 26, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

HANCOCK - Robert E. Barnhart and his family were at his parents' house across the street on Friday, exchanging Christmas presents, when he noticed that his house was on fire.

"He just took off right away ...," Faye Barnhart said of her son. Her husband, Robert J. Barnhart Jr., ran to help, too.

"The smoke was rolling out the top," she said.

It took 34 firefighters about 50 minutes to control the fire at Robert E. and Lucinda Barnhart's house on Tollgate Ridge, just east of Hancock, according to the Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office.

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The damage was estimated at $150,000.

According to Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation records, the house was built in 1993.

The fire at the wood-frame house started in a first-floor master bedroom, the fire marshal's office said in a news release Saturday.

Faye Barnhart said the fire marshal's office suspects that an electrical problem started the fire.

"The exact cause is under investigation," the fire marshal's release says.

Robert E. Barnhart; his wife, Lucinda; and their children, Joel, 17, and Shawn 11, were visiting Robert's parents, Robert J. Barnhart Jr. and Faye Barnhart, on Friday afternoon.

Faye Barnhart said her son built her a wishing well as a Christmas gift and gave it to her.

The families went back and forth between the homes during the day and were walking back toward hers.

She said she was facing her home and her son was facing her when he noticed the billowing smoke behind her.

Faye Barnhart said the fire ruined the bedroom; that section of the house no longer has a roof.

Robert E. Barnhart, who works for Fleetwood Travel Trailers of Maryland, and Lucinda Barnhart, who works for Tri-State Community Health Center, both in Hancock, lost all of their clothes besides what they were wearing, Faye Barnhart said.

She said she and her husband have taken in her son's family.

There are many other relatives in the neighborhood - six households in all, she said.

People outside the family have come to the Barnharts' aid, too.

Faye Barnhart said the Interfaith Service Coalition sent food.

Hancock Mayor Daniel Murphy, a veterinarian, examined the family's two dogs and two cats, which escaped the fire in good health, other than a burn on one cat's nose.

The Rev. F. Allan Weatherholt and Lay Associate Steven McCarty of St. Thomas' Episcopal Church visited.

Others offered to do laundry and remove belongings from the house.

Pizza Hut chipped in with pizza and drinks for the firefighters, she said.

Faye Barnhart said it was true Christmas spirit.

The fire marshal's office said firefighters from Hancock, Clear Spring, Needmore, Pa., and Berkeley Springs, W.Va., worked on the call.

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