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Mother, daughter adjust to adversity

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

Cheryl Pulford recently became acquainted with an alarming number of insurance adjusters.

A run of misfortune began last month, when Pulford, 52, and her daughter Madison, 17, returned to their home on May Avenue in Bridgeville after a Presidents' Day lunch. The 2003 Chevy Impala that had served Pulford for 146,000 miles was about to abruptly retire.

“I smelled something funny, like a burning wire,” Pulford said. “So I went down to the garage, where the smell was coming from. I opened the door and I got hit with a ton of black smoke. It was terrifying.”

Pulford and Madison safely evacuated and called 911. Firefighters responded quickly, but not before the garage and laundry room were extensively damaged, and a downstairs family room was covered in black soot.

Their residence rendered temporarily uninhabitable, the pair rented a nearby apartment and began discussions with adjusters while adjusting to their relatively cramped confines. Proving she maintains a sense of humor, Pulford recalled conversations about a replacement vehicle going thusly: “I asked the insurance company, ‘Can you tell me what kind of car won't blow up on me?' ”

It took nearly a month to sort out insurance issues and bring in a restoration crew. After the crew's first day on the job, Pulford and Madison were relaxing at the apartment when the phone rang.

“It was Peggy, my next-door neighbor of 20-some years. She goes, ‘Honey, I hate to tell you this, but your house is on fire again,' ” Pulford said. “I said, ‘Peg, this is a really bad joke.' ”

Unfortunately and implausibly, Peg hadn't called with humorous intent.

“When we got there, four fire companies were already there,” Pulford said. “The window in Maddy's room had popped out. It was terrible.”

The second fire began in Madison's room, located above the garage being restored. Most of her possessions were destroyed, as were the room's antique furniture and irreplaceable programs from shows she performed in as a student at the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in Midland.

Pulford, an accountant, said Tuesday she hadn't heard from the Allegheny County Fire Marshal's Office on the official cause of either fire. She had heard from the adjusters.

“I had to start a new claim, so I have four new ones,” she said. “Plus, they've called back some of the old ones. I think I have nine people working on this at the moment.”

Madison, meanwhile, is working with the uncertainty of when she can return to the home where she has lived her entire life.

“It's been difficult,” she said. “But I have faith it'll get better.”

Pulford would like to believe that as well. But after two fires, it's difficult to blame her for wondering what calamity might come next.

“Listen,” she said. “If the house starts burning again, don't even call me at that point.”

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com.

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