Milford family displaced by fire

 

Emily Berry, Malachi Jackson, Julie Connelly, Bucky Sehn and other family members were displaced when their home was destroyed by an accidental fire caused by a space heater that ignited combustible materials. (Milford Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik)

MILFORD — When a space heater sparked a blaze inside Julie Connelly’s fourth-generation home, 16-year-old Emily Berry jumped into action.

The soon-to-be mom had just finished preparing herself a meal and was headed upstairs to eat it when another housemate called her downstairs because of the then-small fire.

“Malachi followed me downstairs. I’m glad he did,” she said of Ms. Connelly’s 3-year-old who was home at the time.

The housemate pulled back a curtain to display the small fire. Emily immediately took Malachi to the porch to get him out of the house.

“I called Julie. No answer. I called my mom. She told me where the extinguisher was, but by that time, we opened the front door and smoke came out. I ran around the back, grabbed Malachi and called 9-1-1 across the street,” Emily said. “My first priority is him. I needed to set the kid out of the house and do what I had to do. By the time we pulled the curtains back, it already had half the room.”

Although Ms. Connelly didn’t answer the phone right away, it wasn’t long before she arrived home.

“By the time I made it from Milford-Harrington Highway to Uncle Willies with my flashers on … Near Westside Restaurant, I could already see the smoke,” she said. “It took me two minutes to get home. The second floor was already engulfed.”

The Delaware State Fire Marshall’s office determined the Nov. 15 fire in the 400 block of South Washington Street in Milford was accidentally caused by a space heater located too closely to combustible materials. The home did not have working smoke detectors, the press release added.

“The heater was seated on a dresser. The bed was less than a foot away from the dresser. We were moving. There were plants. Honestly, everything was everywhere. We had bags of donatable things, trash, things going to storage,” Ms. Connelly’s boyfriend Bucky Sehn recalled.

“The heater was on. A lot of people do it. You turn it on to a low setting and it has a thermostat inside. It’s supposed to kick off at a certain temperature. But it didn’t. It got too hot,” Ms. Connelly added.

The fire took about two hours to extinguish. By then, photos and videos of the incident could already be found online.

“People were taking photos and such. And I’m just like, you’re literally gawking at my whole life,” Ms. Connelly said.

Carlisle Fire Company responded to the fire first and called for the help of other local fire departments such as the Harrington and Houston fire companies to assist.

“Carlisle actually had to come out again because it was about to ignite again to finish the job,” Ms. Connelly said in disbelief. “The fire marshal said they were pulling the guys out of the house because the structure was unstable. As he was telling us that, the front part of the house fell down. It just fell apart.”

Although the home was gone, the three people inside at the time made it out safely. The family was in transition as the home was foreclosed and pockets of family members began finding housing elsewhere.

Ms. Connelly, 28, and Mr. Sehn, 36, occupied the home along with three-year-old Malachi, 16-year-old Emily, nine-year-old Kyleigh Everett, 8-year-old Tatem Everett, a friend and her two children, Ms. Connelly’s mother 54-year-old Wanda Torrie and Mr. Sehn’s children when visiting.

Their friend and one child are staying with family temporarily. The other child left the home two days before the fire. Ms. Connelly’s daughters Kayleigh and Tatem are residing with their father until the family finds a permanent home. Ms. Torrie has also found a temporary residence.

Mr. Sehn, Ms. Connelly, Emily and Malachi are left and have stayed in a local hotel since the fire enveloped the family home.

“This was my mom’s house before. Her mom bought it when she was 12,” Ms. Connelly said. “They lived there until I was 3. We moved out and bought the house from Oma when I was in second grade.”

As one can expect, priceless memories could be found inside the home just the day before — all lost due to the accidental fire.

“My Oma just recently died. Her ashes, my grandfather’s ashes… I literally watched my whole life go up in flames. All I could hear was the popping of the windows,” Ms. Connelly said. “Every picture of my mom, my dad… the sonogram of my kid I had that was stillborn; these are things I’ll never get back.”

The family is trying to maintain a positive look on their situation, however.

“I keep telling myself that everything in there is replaceable,” Ms. Connelly said. “My cousin actually said it’s okay to be overwhelmed. It’s a lot. We need more than just clothes.”

Aside from household items, the family and their housemates lost a total of $6,000 in cash during the fire which was squirreled away for a variety of needs.

“Veronica lost her house deposit of $1,000. We lost our deposit. There was money for Christmas,” Mr. Sehn said. “What we need most is somewhere to rent. Somewhere that will work with us because we don’t have a deposit.”

With a stable full-time job under his belt, Mr. Sehn said the family needs a three-bedroom home within the Milford School District with a budget of around $1,000 a month.

“For me, it’s not about the give-me. I’ve never been a give-me person. I’ve always been the helper. I’ve never been the one to ask for help. I’m looking for someone to give me an opportunity. We lost $5,000 cash. That was my down payment or deposit,” he said.

For now, the family is grateful everyone is safe.

“I keep thinking of the what-ifs. I’m just glad that it happened the way it happened,” Emily said.

Ms. Connelly agreed.

“I’m glad her mommy instincts kicked in. There was smoke and she knew she had to get Malachi out. At the end of the day, everything in there is replaceable.”

A fundraising page has begun online to assist the family moving forward. It can be found by visiting https://www.gofundme.com/fire-leaves-family-devastated.

Jennifer Antonik writes special reports for the Delaware State News

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