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A fire destroyed a Glenelg farmhouse Friday and burned virtually allof the belongings of a family of five, who are now the focus of a community relief effort.

The William Piccioni family, who were living in a two-story tenement on the Circle C Farm, escaped unharmed.

"All they got out with were the clothes on their backs," said Scott Knox, the head of the county Red Cross office.

"Things don't look very good right now. They could really use whatever help they can get," said Knox. He added that the Red Cross will be putting up the family in a motel for three to five days.

Firefighters said the blaze began at 5:40 a.m. when a space heater set fire to a living room couch in the house, in the 3600 block of Shady Lane. Family members could not put the fire out and were unable to call for help because they did not have a phone.

Piccioni, 45, and his wife, Lola, 44, gathered their three children into their car and drove to the Sharp farm about a mile away to call the fire department.

Piccioni, who is employed as a caretaker at the Circle C horse farm, lived at the farmhouse rent-free as part of his compensation for his work. The owner of the house is identified in fire reports as Ernest Colvin.

Denise Sharp, who is helping the family, said they were staying with her while Red Cross officials made motel arrangements.

Citizens National Bank is collecting cash donations for the Piccionis, and Sharp has offered her barn to store household items and other contributions for the family.

Bushy Park Elementary -- where 8-year-old Laura and 10-year-old Tracy Piccioni attend classes -- will also be accepting clothing donations for the children.

The two girls went to school Friday, after Sharp obtained some clothes for them from neighbors.

"They wanted to go, I think, because they wanted to return to something normal," Sharp said. "I think this has been a big shock for them."

Firefighters said that among the items lost were Valentine's Day cards made by the two children.

"It's a terrible thing. They asked us if they could save just those, and we had to tell them, no, they're gone," said Fire Department Battalion Chief Donald R. Howell.

Howell said that the fire left only part of a roof and two sides of the building standing. Those had to be demolished for safety reasons, leaving nothing standing, Howell said.

"It's a real hard-luck story. The poor guy was scrounging through the wreckage just trying to find some clothing," Howell said.

"The irony is, when I left, he was getting ready to feed the horses. Even though he lost everything, he still was attending to the horses, who needed him," Howell said.

Donations to the bank may be mailed to the Piccioni Fund, c/o Citizens National Bank, P.O. Box 335, Glenelg, Md. 21737.

Denise Sharp said donors may call her at her home, at 489-4630.

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