Firefighters hadn't even left Chris and Amber Ellis on Sunday evening to deal with the soaked, sooty burnt-out mess that was the Ellis family home when friends and neighbors began to offer support and condolences to the couple and their five children.
The fire that started around 12:39 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9, drew 50 Baltimore County Fire personnel from multiple stations and took just over an hour to get under control. No one was injured, and investigators have not yet determined the fire's cause or the total damage caused.
Neighbors and friends have reached out to help, including former Orioles pitcher Scott McGregor, who has offered the Ellises full use of his nearby house while he and his wife, Cara, are in Sarasota for spring training. McGregor will coordinate rehab programs for injured minor-league pitchers this season.
Even before firefighters left the scene Sunday, another neighbor arrived with a basket of clothes.
Hampton Elementary and Ridgely Middle, where four of the Ellis children go to school, have replaced school supplies lost in the blaze.
'I think it's on fire'
In the moments before the family's home went up in flames on Sunday afternoon, Amber Ellis said the children were playing outside in the yard when Matt, 16, pulled their Audi Quattro into the garage to clean the car. When he tried to restart the vehicle, the engine clicked and began to smoke, she said.
Her husband, owner and head chef of the restaurant Christopher Daniel in Timonium, was out on a grocery run for the restaurant. Amber Ellis suggested they wait for him to get home before doing anything with the car.
Matt went to his room to rest, while Noah, 13, and Jacob, 12, played video games in the basement. Caroline, 12, took the family dog for a walk.
Eight-year-old Ben played outside but suddenly ran inside with a message: "Mom, I think it's on fire."
"Well, what's on fire?" Amber Ellis replied.
"The garage," Ben said.
"I got up very quickly and went to open the garage door, and the whole front engine was totally engulfed in flames," Amber Ellis said. "I shut the door immediately and told him to go out the front door."
As she grabbed a phone to call 911, Amber Ellis went to the basement to summon the three older children.
With all four boys and Amber outside, they learned that a neighbor had called the fire department to report an explosion in the garage and the fire.
Caroline returned home from her walk, and Chris Ellis returned home from his errands to find the house in flames and firefighters hard at work. The children were ushered away to a neighbor's house as firefighters first attempted to fight the fire from within the house before being forced outside by the flames.
Getting some 'normalcy'
On Monday, Chris Ellis' attention was centered on the garage, where things had disintegrated in the flames — bicycles, snowboards, new skis and boots, fishing rods. Shell casings from a small supply of bullets were all over the driveway. The garage door collapsed on the Audi, which sat on its axles — the tires and rims had melted away.
The right side of a white Mercedes GL450 SUV that was parked in the driveway at the time of the fire was toasted. The left side remained as pristine as the day it was purchased.
Upstairs in the master bedroom, a pile of Orioles and Ravens jerseys were charred in a pile on the floor, with a McGregor jersey among them. Amber Ellis' wedding dress hung over the burnt door of an armoire.
The children's rooms were badly damaged as well. Clothes and linens were strewn across blackened mattresses, and a Star Wars mural in one room was exposed to the Monday morning rain.
Amber Ellis said the firefighters — whom she thanked profusely for their efforts — escorted her throughout the house once the fire was controlled late Sunday to gather whatever mementos they could.
Matt's school supplies were safe in his basement room, and all he had to do was borrow clothes to return to class at Calvert Hall on Monday. Coincidentally, Matt's rugby coach was one of the responding firefighters.
Amber Ellis was unclear how much learning the children would accomplish at school Monday, but after a tumultuous day in which the family lost so much, she wanted the children to know they hadn't lost everything.
"Everybody went to school to try and get some normalcy and stick to routines," Amber Ellis said. "There's really nothing for them to do here. There are no toys, no iTouches, no iPads, all of that is gone."