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Family pulls hope from ashes of devastating fire

| Saturday, Dec. 16, 2006

Ruby Williams was in full "panic mode" Friday.

The Red Cross has paid for Williams and her 10-member family to stay in a local hotel until Monday, but they have nowhere to go after that.

A fire Thursday destroyed their Knoxville home and just about everything in it, including Christmas presents. The fire took the birthday gifts for two of her daughters. One was born on Christmas Eve, the other on New Year's Day.

"I just cannot even wrap my mind around this," said Williams, 32, who escaped from the fire with her husband, Ricco Brown, six children, an aunt and a cousin. "I just don't know where to start. Monday's going to be rough, because we'll officially be homeless. I really didn't want to be starting over again at this point in my life."

Dozens of people across the region responded yesterday to the family's plight, offering money and presents and to replace other things.

The story of the family's loss touched Dawn Gob, of Bethel Park. Her husband, Art Gob, was living in Knoxville in the 1960s when a fire destroyed his family's home, just before Christmas.

"This is such a critical time of year, and because my husband had the same experience as a child, we really felt a connection to this family and we want to help them," Gob said.

The fire, which was sparked by a malfunctioning electrical cord, damaged the Knoxville United Church next door.

The church's board yesterday established the Brown Family Fund and will begin taking donations this weekend, said the Rev. Gilbert Fitzsimmons.

"We absolutely want to do anything we can to help these people, especially at a time of year that is supposed to be happy and peaceful," Fitzsimmons said.

Though overwhelmed, Williams said she is proud of how her children -- who are home-schooled -- are handling the circumstances. When Williams, her son and five daughters -- who range in age from 4 to 17 -- returned to their destroyed home yesterday, the sight of water dripping from the living room ceiling onto pieces of fallen insulation and wood nearly made her cry.

Then something buoyed her spirits.

Her daughter Deliylah, 13, started trying to salvage the Christmas tree. Another daughter, Hasna, 12, squealed from the other room that she had found some of her textbooks and homework.

"If they can look on the bright side and be grateful they can save their books and school work, then I know we'll be all right," Williams said. "We'll get through this as a family. It can only get better from here."

Additional Information:

Details

How to Help

The Knoxville United Church has established the Brown Family Fund. Donations can be sent to:

Brown Family Fund c/o Knoxville United Church 148 Jucunda St. Pittsburgh, PA 15210 412-381-3317

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