Family rebuilds following fire

Stefanie Hartel and three of her four sons, including,from left, Isaiah, 8, Ricky, 9, and Trae, 6, are shown at their apartment on Edmondson Avenue in Catonsville. The family lost all of their possessions after a fire in their Violetville apartment and are rebuilding their lives thanks to the help of several community and church groups. (Staff photo by Brian Krista / December 12, 2012)

With only a few days until Christmas, a young Catonsville family again has a roof over its head, clothes bulging out of dresser drawers, a Christmas tree twinkling in the corner of theirhome and hopes for a good Christmas, thanks to the generosity of several local Santas, area churches, Southwest Emergency Services and the Arbutus Senior Center.

Two months ago, Stephanie Hartel; and her boys, Richard, 9, Isaiah, 7, Trae, 6, and Charles, 3, had lost everything.

It happened around dinner time on Oct. 5.

Hartel, 25, had just dropped clean clothes off in her sons' room, noticed Charles was playing with Matchbox cars and left to take care of another chore.


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Moments later, one of her older sons — she doesn't remember which one — raced out of the bedroom, alarmed.

"Mom," he told her, "there's nothing but smoke!"

She raced into the bedroom, grabbed her youngest child, and rounded up Isaiah and Trae. Richard was nothome.

It was too late to get back into the house to retrieve any belongings after she got the boys out. Fire raged through their second-floor apartment in Violetville.

All that was left was ash.

The children'spetsnake and lizard perished. Their toys melted. All those clean clothes went up in smoke.

"I didn't get anything out except my kids," Hartel said.

Firefighters said the blaze began in the bedroom but were unable to determine a cause.

Her father took her in, until she could get back on her feet.

Within two weeks, she had found a three-bedroom apartment in Catonsville.

The community sprang into action to help her.

Hartel went first to Southwest Emergency Services for clothes and was lucky to find help with a security deposit for an apartment.

A SWES volunteer, hearing her story, called on her church, Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church, to help.

"We jumped into gear and did what we needed to do," said Jackie Jones, a member of the Lansdowne church's Mission Committee.

Then a member of the Arbutus Senior Center heard about the fire and rallied her fellow seniors.

Community groups provided the basic necessities, from clothes to food and cleaning supplies. They even supplied sleeping bags since the family didn't have beds yet.