Christmas presents saved for children displaced by Owasso house fire
BY KENDRICK MARSHALL World Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
12/25/12 at 7:55 PM
Watch a slideshow of images at the house and hotel after the fire.
OWASSO — A stash of Christmas presents that had been hidden in a shed saved the day for five children Christmas morning.
Many personal items and cherished family mementos were destroyed in a house fire Christmas Eve, but toys that had been hidden in the shed behind the burned house remained untouched.
On Christmas morning, those five children — all younger than 7 — opened their gifts at the Candlewood Suites Hotel, where their families stayed after the fire.
Yolanda Harvey, who moved to Owasso from Ohio just four months ago, was one of the renters of the two-story home.
She and 14 others — many of whom were visiting from out of town — had been enjoying a fire in the fireplace Monday evening. The children were drinking hot chocolate and preparing to read “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” when the chimney caught fire and the blaze spread to the attic just after 6 p.m.
A stiff north wind blew the flames to a neighboring home in the 8300 block of North 119th East Avenue, Owasso Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike Sole said.
“It just happened so quick,” said Dee Whyel, who said she had contacted the landlord before the fire to ask whether the fireplace could be used.
The occupants of both houses were able to get outside before firefighters arrived, and no injuries were reported.
Next-door neighbor Connie Allbritton, who was at church with her daughter when the fire started, didn’t lament over lost possessions. She was just relieved that her husband, Wes Allbritton — who was asleep as their home began to burn — was able to get out safely with the assistance of a neighbor.
“You can always replace things,” she said. “We are happy everyone is safe.”
In the aftermath of the fire, both families received aid from the Tulsa Chapter of the American Red Cross as well as donations from the community.
“My phone just won’t stop ringing,” said Candlewood Suites Hotel clerk Holly Harris, who had been inundated with calls from strangers wanting to make donations. “I’ve never experienced anything like this before. It is amazing how Owasso is coming together to help.”
As Harvey watched her home become engulfed in flames, residents offered her cash and checks.
“I looked, and there was a check for $1,000,” she said. “Even the people back in Mansfield (Ohio) are donating stuff to us.”
She described the wave of emotions she’s felt since the blaze as overwhelming.
Harvey’s sister, Veronica Lechtenberger, said she’s received calls from benefactors across the country to help with basic items such as clothing, shoes and food for the family.
“We are just so grateful for the outreach of support we’ve received,” she said with tears in her eyes. “This is completely amazing.”
Christmas presents that had been hidden in a shed fill the bed of a pickup as they wait to be delivered Tuesday to children after a fire destroyed the home where they were staying on Christmas Eve. The blaze spread from the house where it started in a chimney to a neighboring house (left), displacing two families and holiday guests. Yolanda Harvey and her sister, Veronica Lechtenberger, can be seen standing outside Harvey's gutted Owasso home. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World
Christmas stockings still hang from the mantle on a fireplace where a house fire started on Christmas Eve. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World