JONES CREEK — When a fire consumed a family’s home on their daughter’s seventh birthday, the community found a way to turn the devastating events into a celebration for the young girl.
Complete with cake, gifts, a fire truck tour and plenty of friends, the birthday celebration masked the tragedy that left the family homeless.
Shelby Clark was home with her four daughters Saturday morning when she smelled smoke and told the girls to go outside.
“We smelled something and I had all the kids with me,” Clark said. “I had them go outside and I started to search the house and that’s when I discovered the TV room was on fire.”
The family had plans to wait for Chase Cooper to get off work and come home before having a small birthday party for their daughter, Tailyn, when the fire broke out, Clark said.
Before long, flames engulfed the entire home, Jones Creek Fire Chief Gus Cancino said.
“Almost the whole interior of the house was damaged,” Cancino said. “The fire spread pretty quick.”
Devastated and not sure what to do, some quick-thinking neighbors stepped in to help salvage Tailyn’s birthday.
“It was kind of a bad deal,” Cancino said. “This was a fire on her birthday. (A future firefighter at the station) had talked with me about doing something for the family. So the fire department pitched in some money and bought the kids presents and took them over to them.”
First responders, neighbors and staff from Stephen F. Austin STEM Academy also donated items to the family, which included clothing and toiletries, Cooper said.
“The whole community rallied together,” Cooper said. “They’ve all been really great helping out, which has made it real comforting.”
The Jones Creek Fire Department also brought a fire truck to the girl’s party as a surprise for the birthday girl, Cancino said.
“I had the idea to bring the fire truck out to just try and make something better out of a bad situation,” Cancino said.
Family friend Miranda Heritier started a Gofundme account for Cooper and Clark’s family, saying the young couple didn’t deserve that tragedy.
“Our kids are best friends and I moved out here in October and they were the first people that actually came up to me and introduced themselves,” Heritier said. “I was at work when I got the call that their house was on fire. It was so devastating and it was their daughter’s birthday.”
Heritier picked up the girls and brought them to her home, where they baked a cake and planned a birthday celebration in just a few hours, she said.
“We were really caught off guard,” Cooper said. “We’ve had a lot of emotional support — the firefighters, community members — just lots of support. It’s been really amazing. … They went out of their way to make a kid’s birthday.”
The family is staying with a friend in Damon but wants to find new housing closer to their children’s school.
“We’re currently looking for a place to stay,” Cooper said “We lost all of our furniture and we’ve been getting a lot of clothing. … Once we find a place, we’ll have to start over with all our furniture and appliances.”
The cause of the fire hasn’t been determined, but it is believed to be electrical, Cancino said.
Donations to the family can be made at the Jones Creek fire station or people can call Leslie Cancino at 979-482-7530.
All information about how to help the family can also be found on the Jones Creek Fire Department Facebook page, Cancino said.