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The Homer Glen community is pulling together to help a local family whose home was consumed by a fire Nov. 14.
At about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to neighbors, a devastating fire destroyed the home of the Alexandros/Gatses family in the Pebble Creek subdivision.
While all seven members of the family, Christine Alexandros; her four children: 16-year-old twins, Georgia and Jennie, and 12-year-old twins, Nicolas and Cristos; and her parents, Tom and Jennie Gatses, escaped the home unharmed, the house and both of the family’s cars were declared total losses, and several family pets, including a fish and three lizards, died in the blaze.
Neighbors were alerted to the situation when they heard the commotion from the street.
“Christine was the last one out of the house,” neighbor Holly Wilson Boyce explained. “Tom had noticed the fire before the alarm went off because he had gotten up to go to the bathroom. He started yelling for the others, but her bedroom is in the basement so she didn’t hear right away. When she realized what was happening, she went back to get her phone to call 911, but by the time she got it, debris had fallen in and blocked her way out.
“She had to get out through her bedroom window, but it took her about four minutes longer than the others. They were all screaming for her in the street, and that’s what woke my husband and me.”
While firefighters battled the flames and tried to prevent the fire from spreading to a neighbor’s house, Wilson Boyce brought out sweatshirts and blankets for the family, who had run out of the house in light clothes and bare feet.
Eventually, neighbor Berenice Landrove was able to convince the children and Tom to come into her house and warm up, she said.
“The grandmother wouldn’t come inside; she was just watching,” said Landrove, who like Wilson Boyce had come out to help after hearing the shouting. “The kids were crying; it was so sad. Everything is gone. They got out with the pajamas on their back, and one of the girls saved their pet bunny, but almost everything else that was in the house was lost, including other pets.
“They were fortunate that we were able to salvage the grandpa’s wheelchair, which was in the car on the driveway, because he has a difficult time getting around.”
The fire started in the home’s attached garage and moved rapidly into the house, according to the neighbors. Landrove said firefighters reported it took no more than eight minutes for the fire to spread, though it took hours to fully extinguish.
What caused the fire in the first place remains undetermined, with authorities investigating. Security footage from Wilson Boyce’s house does not show anything, though she said she was told by a firefighter it could have been an appliance that was plugged in the garage that sparked it, but they may never be sure.
“It started about 2:30 in the morning, and we were out there with them until about 7, when Christine’s brother showed up to help,” Landrove explained. “I only know the time because the other kids from the block had to go in to get ready for school.”
Landrove and Wilson Boyce, who both live across the street from the family, began responding to the tragedy immediately. Before 7 a.m., Landrove had a GoFundMe page started for the family that has raised $8,635 of a $15,000 goal by 141 people in four days, as of press time.
Quickly, after word of the GoFundMe had been shared on social media, support began pouring in.
“The first donations started showing up 7:30 that morning,” Wilson Boyce said. “A woman I know from the neighborhood came over with a bag of supplies from around her house, and a little while later, someone else came and handed me an envelope with $500 in cash.”
“My house is full of stuff that we’ve had donated,” Landrove added. “It’s incredible. People have been so generous.”
By the evening of Nov. 14, an effort had begun to hold a benefit for the family through Village Clerk Ann Holtz, who announced the aid efforts at the Village Hall meeting last Wednesday night.
Holtz and Rubi Agave owner Ruben Pazmino are in the process of organizing the benefit for the family at the restaurant, which is schedule to be held at 7 p.m. on Dec. 5 at Rubi.
“Every Wednesday through the holidays we have a raffle at the restaurant for a pair of Louboutin shoes, so we wanted to have the fundraiser on a Wednesday so the events would coincide and bring in a bigger crowd,” Pazmino explained.
Holtz and Pazmino are currently seeking donations for a silent auction and raffle that is to be held at the benefit. Already, a number of local restaurants have agreed to contribute gift certificates as prizes, as well as offering free meals to the family.
Holtz noted that Homer Glen resident Tammy O’Connor, who does parties with Premier Designs Jewelry, has offered to host a jewelry sale at the event, donating her commission and the “hostess gift” jewelry to the family.
“My family has lived in this community for 20 years, and we love to donate when we can,” said Pazmino, who personally visited the family to deliver gift cards to them for meals at Rubi Agave. “We haven’t worked out all the details, but we welcome everyone to come and all donations.”
Donations are likewise being accepted at Village Hall at 14240 W. 151st St., as Wilson Boyce and Landrove are still in the process of sorting through all the items which are being kept at their homes.
Since the family is living in a hotel provided by their insurance company and driving rental cars for the time being, their neighbors noted that getting the donations to them has been complicated.
“They don’t have a lot of room to take everything, and one of the cars is a Dodge sports car, so it’s very impractical,” Wilson Boyce said. “So we’re going through it all and pulling out things they might need immediately.”
Businesses or individuals interested in donating prizes for the Rubi Agave fundraiser can contact Ann Holtz at Village Hall. Currently, donations of cash and gift cards are being requested for the Alexandros/Gatses family, and the GoFundMe page still lists underwear and socks (boys and girls large), phone charger for an iPhone 6+ and Android and rabbit food/straw/treats/harness as things the family needs, as of press time.
Individuals interested in donating to the GoFundMe page can visit bit.ly/2zflkKh.