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Grateful La Pine family: 'They gave us a Christmas'

By Kandra Kent
Barney Lerten
Published On: Dec 24 2012 11:24:15 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 26 2012 03:15:11 AM CST

A Christmas Eve fire destroys a La Pine family's home -- but as NewsChannel 21's Kandra Kent reports, the family is so grateful no one was hurt, they want to pass overwhelming community support on to others in need.

La PINE, Ore. -

Christmas decorations are all that's left after a devastating fire struck a La Pine family's home on Christmas Eve -- but the family was away sledding, and they are  grateful for the community's response, which brings home what the holiday is really all about.

"I was just in total shock, seeing the house in that condition," contractor Shawn Dunne said Tuesday. "We'd just left there. Everything was perfect."

It was the beginning of a beautiful white Christmas. Dunne took his family and some neighbors sledding on Christmas Eve. They had presents under the tree, turkey cooking in the oven, when on their family outing, they got an unimaginable phone call: The place they had called home for just a year was in flames.

"What broke my heart was my two boys," he said. "You know, it took a lot of work to get here to La Pine -- to start our life over, to get that home. I mean, it was our everything -- that home was everything to us. But to see the look on the boys' face when they heard the news, it was just devastating."

Dunne had completely remodeled the home, complete with a special game room, cherished by the family, "where we'd play pool and hang out," he said. "I got a stage, me and the kids would play in our band."

Now staying in a motel, they left the charred ruins of their home with little more than each other -- and an outpouring of community support that shows what Christmas is all about.

"These clothes that I'm wearing were from them," Dunne said. "They gave us clothes. They gave my sons presents to open up, I mean -- they gave us a Christmas. And the Salvation Army was right there. This town, La Pine -- it stepped up for us."

In the day since the fire, the Dunnes' phone has been ringing off the hook with people wanting to help. The love and generosity brought Dunne to tears. And even after losing it all, he hopes to use this support to give to others.

"We feel that we have enough to get by, that maybe there's other people more in need (than) us," he said. "That maybe we can direct these funds to go to somebody that needs a blanket this winter. Or maybe there's another child out there that doesn't have a present.

"We would sure like to just kind of direct everything in that (direction). Because I tell ya, our spirits are high."

Despite losing everything, the Dunne family say they are grateful that everyone is safe, and happy to be spending Christmas with loved ones.

Though the best news was that no one was hurt in Monday afternoon’s fire – even their dogs were along on the trip – the tragedy quickly prompted neighbors to join Deschutes County sheriff’s deputies and the American Red Cross in stepping in to help save the family’s Christmas.

La Pine Rural Fire District crews were called shortly before 3 p.m. to the home at 15781 Lava Drive, said sheriff’s Lt. Tim Leak.

La Pine fire Capt. Fred Franklin said the 1,500-square-foot manufactured home had two rooms added on, an attached garage and a composition roof with about a foot of snow on it. Yellow smoke was pouring from the eaves and roof vents.

Just as the first of a dozen firefighters prepared to enter the burning home, "the entire roof of the addition collapsed inward and crews were ordered to defensive operations," Franklin said in a news release.

After evaluating the structure, they found the rest of the structure was more stable, so they entered the garage and center of the home to make sure no one was inside, then began extinguishing the blaze, Franklin said.

No other structures or surrounding areas burned, Leak said.

Franklin said they stopped forward progress on the fire by 3:22 p.m. but still had to overhaul the structure, as flames persisted in the center ridge beam area of the home's roof and in the insulation in the void spaces of the vaulted ceiling.

The fire was declared out around 6 p.m., Franklin said, adding that there were no injuries.

While Leak said the sheriff’s office was helping investigate the cause of the fire, Sgt. Troy Gotchy said, “We don’t think there’s anything suspicious.”

Instead, officials said the fire apparently in the area of the home’s Christmas tree. Franklin said the family had left home around 11:30 a.m., and that they left a turkey baking in the oven and the Christmas tree plugged in.

The heaviest fire damage occurred in the family/dining room area where the Christmas tree was located, Franklin said.

The Red Cross was called in and was providing shelter for the family of four at a local hotel, Leak said. Meanwhile, the sheriff’s office provided them with food vouchers to a local grocery store, and through the generosity of the Shop With a Cop program, clothing and toys also were provided.

"We have some people who are shopping at Wal-Mart right now," Gotchy said.

Family friend Fred Elsnau told The Bulletin Deane Caveness and Shawn Dunne and their boys were sledding at Rosland Park.

Elsnau said he took in the family's four dogs -- A Chihuahua, who retrievers and a Shi Tzu.  Another neighbor, Glenn Costello, said they had lost "clothes, bedding, food, furniture, everything!"

The teen wears 32x30 in pants and large shirts, he said, and the 12-year-old wears clothes a bit smaller than most his age. And their dogs need food, toys, beds, etc., Costello wrote in an e-mail.

“Also, I'm sure cash would be greatly appreciated," Costello added.

Those wishing to help were asked to call Paulette Lockwood at 541-536-9684 for more information, or bring donations to 15809 Lava Drive.

“God bless and please check your trees tonight!" Costello concluded.

Dunne wanted to give the sheriff's office and the Salvation Army special thanks for their response.

Friends and family are setting up an account at U.S. Bank for donations to help the family recover, under the name "Cavaness family."

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