Timonium resident Kathy Franz has cried twice in the last week.
First she cried in the three minutes after finding out her house was on fire and couldn't account for the safety of her children. The second time came after a tremendous show of support from her neighbors.
“The outpouring of support is really quite humbling," Franz said. "It’s overwhelming that so many people and even people who we didn’t know cared about this tragedy.
Investigators have made progress in determining the cause of last week’s . Meanwhile, friends and strangers have begun collecting food, gift cards and monetary donations to get the Franz family back on their feet.
Fire department spokeswoman Elise Armacost said the incident was ruled as an accidental electrical fire, related to an outlet connected to a small refrigerator.
The fire spread to the rear of the home where it caused an explosion when it reached a propane grill.
Three young kids—both of Franz's children, plus a family friend—were home when the fire started.
Chris Owen, a door-to-door energy analysis solicitor was canvassing the neighborhood last Thursday when he said he smelled smoke. Owen ran to the home—the rear engulfed in flames—and urged the children who were upstairs at the time to run outside.
The children were safe, although two cats were killed in the fire.
"People know that I’m an animal freak. I had my cats for 13 years they were my third and fourth kids and it’s very sad that I wasn’t there for them," Franz said. "But when you put it into perspective the fact that our children did what we told them to do … I’m just so proud of them and thankful to Chris.”
Armacost said the fire caused $150,000 in damage to the home, and $50,000 in damage to the family’s personal belongings—a rough estimate.
"To be honest with you, I love our house, I loved our things but it didn’t matter after I knew my kids were safe,” Franz said.
Franz told her children that she was leaving for an errand Thursday and would be back home in 20-25 minutes. She gave them the "regular schpeal" — to not open the door to strangers, to always answer the phone if she calls and to not eat, fearing that her children could choke.
“Then I got a text that said ‘Mom our house is on fire. Come home please,’” Franz said.
The three minutes that followed were "a parents worst nightmare."
Owen knocked repeatedly on the door afte smelling smoke while canvassing the neighborhood. The children checked who was at the door through a window, but didn't open the door until they heard Owen on the phone with the fire department.
The children went to a trusted neighbor's home and within minutes the quiet Pinewood-Valleywood community street was flanked end to end by fire engines.
Since then, Franz has been staying at her late parents' home in Towson—a place familiar to her children. Franz's priority is to get back to normal as soon as possible, while keeping her children, 10 and 12 years old, on the same routine.
The family has been floored by gifts and donations.
"This older woman—I don’t even know her—she sent me this card that said ‘God was with you and thank the Lord that the children are OK.’ It was $50 and she said that it was for gas," Franz said. "I know families in this community that are struggling to get by like we all are in this economy and they are sending me these gift cards and I know that they could use some. ... That’s what makes me cry—just that people care enough about us and our family. Your faith in mankind is just reconfirmed.”
Editor's note: If you’d like to donate, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll pass along your information to the two women who are leading the collection.