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After fire's devastation, family and friends come to the rescue

April 24, 2010|By MARIE GILBERT
  • Jonathan and Mary Miller of Boonsboro look at their new kitchen with their son Brian, Saturday. More than 100 volunteers helped rebuild the couple's home after fire damaged it back in February.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer,

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- There was little left of Jonathan and Mary Miller's home on Feb. 16.

Twisted iron pipes hung from a collapsed ceiling and hardened black ash littered the snow-covered lawn.

The fire had spread quickly that winter afternoon, said Brian Imes, the couple's son. Flames shot up through the chimney and drywall. And when it hit air, it moved at an alarming pace.

What the family didn't know, Imes said, was that the roof line had been smoldering for weeks.

It was a chimney fire that turned into a nightmare, causing more than $100,000 worth of damage and displacing the older couple for several months.

The house on U.S. 40 east of Hagerstown had been filled with a lifetime of possessions, now suddenly gone.

But the couple was safe, Imes said.

"Material things can be replaced," he said.

Now, the rebuilding of a house and two people's lives would begin.

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Sixty-eight days after the fire, the Millers came home Saturday afternoon.

They drove up their familiar driveway and walked through the back door into a residence filled with new furniture, new carpeting and new cabinets.

For Jonathan, 69, and Mary, 79, the moment was overwhelming.

"I don't know what to say," Mary said as she walked into her new kitchen. "But I'm thankful. It's good to be home."

It brought a smile and quite a few tears to the faces of the many people gathered around her -- people who had made this day possible.

The house, Imes said, was rebuilt through the generosity of family, friends and complete strangers.

"We have been absolutely blessed," he said. "It's unbelievable how so many people came together to turn such a negative into a positive."

Imes estimates that more than 100 people helped the family during that difficult time.

Churches, businesses and co-workers rallied around the couple from the very beginning, he said.

The American Red Cross showed up with accommodations. The Millers' church donated several hundred dollars to help meet their immediate needs.

And family members' phones began ringing with offers of help in rebuilding the modest rancher the couple had bought in 1964.

As word spread, more people who had heard about the fire kept showing up.

Following assessments and demolition, the rebuilding officially began just days after the fire.

"I stopped by one day to see complete strangers with hammers and nails, working away," Imes said. "It was just phenomenal."

Imes said the new home is much safer and more energy-efficient than the previous structure. For instance, the fireplace is state of the art with a steel liner cemented to the wood stove preventing another fire.

"This is still my parents' home, just a bit better," he said.

While the new home was taking shape, though, the Millers were anxious to see the progress.

Family members wanted the finished home to be a surprise, so Millers, who were staying in a Hagerstown apartment, had to wait.

"That wasn't easy," Imes said. "They really wanted to see their home."

The wait ended Saturday, when family and friends organized a special welcome home party for the Millers.

"I had no idea," Jonathan Miller said, rubbing his hand across the new kitchen counter. "This is my home."

Mary said she wanted to thank the many people who helped rebuild her home, but didn't know where to start.

"I just don't believe this," she said. "It's beautiful."

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