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Fire erupts as family sleeps

A "pop" rouses Josephine Ford in time to get 12 family members out. The house, the gifts, the pictures are gone.

Fred Ford looked up and saw an enormous flock of crows land in a nearby tree, their black feathers contrasting sharply against Friday's gray sky.

"Cold," Ford said. "That means it's going to get a lot colder."

Ford had his family around him. His two sons and their children huddled outside in what already was a raw day.

Ordinarily, the kids would be inside the house on Hillsborough Lane, playing with Christmas bikes and toys their parents struggled mightily to get. But a fire early Friday burned those gifts and the house, too. It took clothes and furniture and pictures and memories.

That the fire didn't take even more was, Josephine Ford said, proof of God's grace. She, like her two sons, daughter-in-law and nine grandchildren, was asleep just before 3 a.m. when a loud pop roused her. It came from the direction of the electric heater.

"I thought I was dreaming," said Mrs. Ford, still badly shaken Friday afternoon. "It was Jesus. It was God waking me up."

Mrs. Ford, 59, fumbled for her glasses. Then, she felt the heat and saw the flames.

"I was hollering, trying to get everybody out," she said. "I was sliding, running."

Everybody did get out, and, for that, Joseph Lee Ford is thankful.

"My mother, she made sure everybody made it out safe and sound," he said. "If it wasn't for her, some of us wouldn't have made it out."

Those who lived in the house spent Friday night scattered among relatives.

Joseph Lee Ford's family wouldn't usually have been in the house at all, but this holiday season has been a tough one financially.

"We had gotten down real bad, and we didn't have any place to go," he said.

So he took his wife and their combined family of seven children to his mother's home. His brother, Chris Ford, was caring for her and his two children while his father, Fred, lived across the street.

The Fords pooled their efforts to make sure the children didn't know how hard times were.

Joseph Lee Ford's children got what they wanted. Kenya Lee, 7, got an Easy Bake oven, and 8-year-old Thomas got a scooter. The 9-year-olds, Joseph Lee and Shanequa, were happy, too _ he with a remote-controlled truck and she with in-line skates. Hakeem, 10, got Techno, the battery-operated dog, and Alora, 10, got that Walkman she wanted. Shadominique, 12, got a radio.

Chris Ford was able to get bikes for his girls, 12-year-old Ashley and 15-year-old Josephine.

What's left of those toys and the family's belongings was stacked Friday on the hood of a car parked next to the burned-out house.

Chris Ford said his mother has taken the family's losses especially hard. They found her sitting in a chair in the destroyed home crying.

"We had to make her leave," he said.

The children, Chris Ford said, are hurting, too.

But it was clear that it was not just the toys they were missing.

As Chris Ford spoke in the street next to the burned home, his daughter Josephine brought over a soot-stained picture of Barney he had painted for her years ago. Her eyes were full of tears.

"Daddy'll hook you up with another one," Chris Ford told her. "Daddy'll get you another one."

Anyone interested in helping the family can call Chris Ford's employer, Chris Auto, at (813) 932-3285.

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