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Close-up of aftermath

Residents take tour of burned home

Residents take tour of burned home

September 28, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - In portions of the living room where Hagerstown newlyweds watched television on a new flat screen, the heat from a cooking fire reached temperatures of 600 degrees.

Above the stove, where blackened slabs of drywall hang, it was 1,000 degrees, Firefighter Ed Shindle told a group of people touring 317 Devonshire Road.

Lainnie and Tim Gehring, who lost one cat and most of their belongings in a fire Sept. 21, recounted how a pan of oil left unattended on the stove forced them from a home they bought less than three months ago. Dozens of people from their neighborhood turned out Wednesday to see the house, as part of a fire prevention effort by Hagerstown Fire Department.

"There was fire on the back wall from what I remember, there was fire on the pot ... I just didn't think of the extinguisher, I'm still kicking myself, 'Why didn't I think of the extinguisher?'" Tim Gehring asked as groups of about a half-dozen people at a time toured his burnt home.

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Gehring, 29, left oil cooking on the stove while he went to the store Sept. 21. When he returned, Lainnie, 22, already was outside, having battled flames and smoke herself before escaping, she said.

The Gehrings, who were married less than a year ago, were treated and released from Washington County Hospital, fire prevention educator Mike Weller said.

Unattended cooking is the No. 1 cause of fire in the city, Weller said. Grabbing at a burning pot to remove it from the stove is a leading cause of injury, he said.

In the Gehrings' case, the fire might not have been so bad if the couple had called the fire department right away, Weller said.

"If you have not put that fire out in 30 seconds, it's out of control," said Weller, who advised that people keep a fire extinguisher in their kitchens.

Though people should not panic in emergencies, Weller said they should be prepared to leave their homes if they cannot control a fire within a few seconds.

"No property is worth losing your life over or being physically injured," Weller said.

According to Lainnie Gehring, who is four months pregnant, the couple moved into the house in late June. Gehring, who was at home when the fire started, said she knew there was a fire extinguisher somewhere in the house, but she could not find it. Instead, after calling her sister-in-law for help, she said she looked for flour to dump on the fire.

Because Gehring said she could not remember what to do when faced with a fire, she said she agreed to let firefighters use her house as an example for others.

"It's not drilled like 'don't talk to strangers,' it's not drilled into your head," Gehring said.

Brian Mills, whose mother lives near the house, said Wednesday he decided to come to the walk-through to show his 6-year-old son, Dayne, the dangers of leaving food on the stove. Dayne, who is curious about firefighters, often pleads with him to play while he is cooking, he said.

"I wanted him to see it's not all fun and games and pull the hoses out. I wanted to show him where people actually lived and what it looks like now," Mills said.

Mills said he tried to help the Gehrings save their pets.

According to Lainnie Gehring, one cat, Ariel, died in the fire, while a second cat and a dog were saved.

A smoker, Tim Gehring said he always has been more concerned about cigarettes and candles than cooking. Though he put flour on the fire, flames, smoke and heat heavily damaged the rooms the public saw Wednesday. The walls and furniture were blackened, and the microwave, television, computer and refrigerator melted.

Despite their home's damage, the Gehrings said they plan to renovate and return to 317 Devonshire Road. The house is insured, Tim Gehring said.

"That's our thought (that) bringing a baby back into the house would make it feel like home again," Lainnie Gehring said.

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