An afternoon fire in the north ward section of Tamaqua Wednesday, destroyed the home of a family of 10 and their possessions just two days before Christmas.
Since then, relief organizations, police departments and other donors have been working overtime to make the tragic event less bleak for the victims during the holidays.
The fast moving fire engulfed the residence of David and Michelle Valentine at 226 Washington St. around 1 p.m., producing thick, black smoke that could be seen all over the borough and for miles around.
The billowing cloud of smoke around the home was so dense at times that it blocked out the midday sun.
"When I got here, you could see the smoke coming out of the house, and it was everywhere," said Tamaqua Patrolman Michael Hobbs, who was among the first on the fire scene.
"I saw the smoke from my back porch and came out," said Michael Houser, who lives on nearby Brown Street, and said he has known the Valentine family for years.
The family has eight children – five boys and three girls – ranging in age from 15 years to 11 months old: Robert, Daisy, David, Shelly, Carl, Dominick, John and Ashley Rose.
The Tamaqua Area School District had dismissed early Wednesday for the holidays, which is why the children were home at that time.
According to Tamaqua Fire Chief Thomas Schlorf, the blaze began in the laundry room of the house, which is situated at the bottom of a hill.
"One of the kids took something hot out of the stove and took it into the laundry room, and the laundry caught fire," said Schlorf.
Hobbs said it was the oldest daughter, Daisy, 13, who first saw the fire and alerted her siblings.
"She got everyone out of the house," he related.
The family was quickly moved into the home of David and Patricia Lamb at 308 Washington St. for the duration of the fire.
While firefighters' were quick to repsond to the scene, the flames still gutted the single family dwelling, which is owned by Todd Snyder and rented by the Valentines. Reportedly, the owner has fire insurance.
Almost all of the family's possessions, including all of their Christmas gifts, as well as furniture, appliances, beds and personal belongings, were ruined by the blaze.
None of the human occupants of the house were injured, although two pets were lost: a 2-year-old dog named Max and a 2-year-old cat named So Pretty.
"Everyone is so sad about this, especially around Christmas," said Schlorf.
The 20 degree temperatures added an obstacle for firefighters, as water used to battle the fire froze, causing some icy patches. Cinders were added to the hill to provide better footing.
The family was eventually relocated to a house on West Rowe Street in Tamaqua, which is also owned by Snyder.
In addition to the Tamaqua Fire and Police Departments, also responding were fire departments from Coaldale, Lansford, Summit Hill, Hometown and two Pottsville fire companies that were part of a Rapid Intervention Team.
Fire Police from Tamaqua and Hometown directed traffic in the area, including busy Route 309, which runs north and south through the borough and became jammed at times during the blaze.
Drivers slammed on their brakes when observing the heavy smoke ahead, according to one witness. A southbound vehicle was involved in an accident near the All-American Jeep Dealership along 309 .
The American Red Cross of Schuylkill and East Northumberland Counties was on the scene, working to aid the fire victims, and the Tamaqua Salvation Army Center will serve as a drop-off point for donations of clothing and other household items. Anyone wishing to make donations can contact The Salvation Army at (570) 668-0410 or drop them off at 105 West Broad St.