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Chimney fire displaces family, but their spirits remain strong despite adversity

Updated: Thursday, December 26 2013, 09:43 PM CST
Reported by Jesse Knutson:

With the cold temperatures, many people use their fireplaces or space heaters to warm their homes, but if you’re not careful, that can lead to fires.

In the past week, numerous fires have broken out and caused significant damage, with the most recent happening Wednesday night in Hummelstown, where a chimney fire has forced a family out of their home.

We did speak to the family Thursday, and for having their home damaged so badly, they’re actually in high spirits.  They say it’s because not only did they all make it out of the home safely, but because of the outpouring of support they’ve received.

The Pegram family moved to their new home in Hummelstown about three and a half months ago so their 13-year-old autistic son could attend the Vista School.

“I just got (done) painting the rooms, making a home, had everything done,” explained mother Celeste Pegram.

So on their Christmas, they decided to use their new fireplace for the first time, but after a few minutes, they realized something was wrong.  A fire had broken out, and they had to run out of the home.

Firefighters got on scene in minutes, but it was too late to save much of the home, including 11-year-old Sienna’s bedroom.

“My bed, it’s all piled in ash,” Sienna stated.

And not just her bed, all of her clothes, books, everything, was destroyed by the fire, but the family is just happy they were able to make it out safely.

“Every time the smoke alarm goes off, my kids, they know to get out,” Celeste explained.

Celeste and her husband, both teachers in Dauphin County, have a fire escape plan in place for their kids.

“Children with young families, it’s a necessity to have a fire plan in place and it always helps to reinforce and tell them not to re-enter the building if anybody or any pet is inside. Leave that job up to the firefighters,” explained Kevin Gern, Fire Chief with Union Deposit Volunteer Fire Company.

The Union Deposit Volunteer Fire Company was one of the company’s that responded to Wednesday night’s fire, and they say it’s important to get your home inspected to avoid these tragedies.

“Contact a certified company that would come out and do the chimney sweep as well as the inspection,” Gern advised.

Now the family is looking forward, working to put their life back together starting with the basics.

“One of my friends dropped by and dropped off pillows and blankets, never even thought that that’s one of the things we desperately need,” realized Celeste.

Along with that, they’re looking for everything from clothes to hygiene items for the kids, and in the past 24 hours, they say an outpouring of support has helped them realize how amazing their community is.

“Just by sharing that little bit of a tragedy, the growth of everybody coming together to help us, it’s amazing,” concluded Celeste.

The Pegram family says they’ve been so taken back by the support they’ve been given, instead of giving gifts to each other next year on Christmas, they’ll be helping those who need help, like they do this year.

If you want to learn how to help out the family, visit

Also, here are some tips on how to safely used a fireplace, wood stove or other heat source from FEMA:

Keep Fireplaces and Wood Stoves Clean

    Have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by a certified chimney specialist.
    -Clear the area around the hearth of debris, decorations and flammable materials.
    -Leave glass doors open while burning a fire. Leaving the doors open ensures that the fire receives enough air to ensure complete combustion and keeps creosote from building up in the chimney.
    -Close glass doors when the fire is out to keep air from the chimney opening from getting into the room. Most glass fireplace doors have a metal mesh screen which should be closed when the glass doors are open. This mesh screen helps keep embers from getting out of the fireplace area.
    -Always use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces that do not have a glass fireplace door.
    -Install stovepipe thermometers to help monitor flue temperatures.
    -Keep air inlets on wood stoves open, and never restrict air supply to fireplaces. Otherwise you may cause creosote buildup that could lead to a chimney fire.
    -Use fire-resistant materials on walls around wood stoves.

Safely Burn Fuels

    -Never use flammable liquids to start a fire.
    -Use only seasoned hardwood. Soft, moist wood accelerates creosote buildup. In pellet stoves, burn only dry, seasoned wood pellets.
    -Build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke.
    -Never burn cardboard boxes, trash or debris in your fireplace or wood stove.
    -When building a fire, place logs at the rear of the fireplace on an adequate supporting grate.
    -Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended. Extinguish the fire before going to bed or leaving the house.
    -Allow ashes to cool before disposing of them. Place ashes in a tightly covered metal container and keep the ash container at least 10 feet away from your home and any other nearby buildings. Never empty the ash directly into a trash can. Douse and saturate the ashes with water.

Protect the Outside of Your Home

    -Stack firewood outdoors at least 30 feet away from your home.
    -Keep the roof clear of leaves, pine needles and other debris.
    -Cover the chimney with a mesh screen spark arrester.
    -Remove branches hanging above the chimney, flues or vents.

Protect the Inside of Your Home

    -Install smoke alarms on every level of your home and inside and outside of sleeping areas. Test them monthly and change the batteries at least once a year. Consider installing the new long life smoke alarms.
    -Provide proper venting systems for all heating equipment.
    -Extend all vent pipes at least three feet above the roof.
Chimney fire displaces family, but their spirits remain strong despite adversity

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