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Ossipee family seeks help after devastating fire

August 12, 2010
OSSIPEE — Following a fire that destroyed her home late last month, Donna Merrow is anxious to get her family's life back together so she and her husband can once again serve as foster parents. But first, they need some help themselves — they are seeking donations of numerous household items to replace those lost in the fire.

The fire broke out on the afternoon of July 29 in the living room of the Merrow family's ranch style home at 160 Chickville Road. Although firefighters were able to contain the fire damage to the living room, the rest of the house suffered smoke damage and most of the family's belongings have been destroyed.

The Merrows now need the basic necessities of a home such as blankets, clothes (especially winter clothes), bureaus, furniture, cooking utensils, and appliances (a refrigerator and a stove). They've even had to borrow dishes to eat their meals. However, someone has already donated a microwave.

For their animals they could use some grain feed for their chickens and two pigs and also some dog food. The grain that the couple had stocked in the basement was destroyed.

At the time of the fire, the family was preparing to welcome three foster children, said Donna, who has been a foster parent for the last 20 years. Now, they will need someone to donate three twin beds and bedding.

"The longer it takes to get up and running, the longer it will be before we can help other people," said Donna.

Currently, Donna, 49, and her husband, Michael, are living in a camper parked beside the home. Donna's in-laws maintain insurance on the home, so she hopes the insurance will pay out before winter. Neither the camper nor the home has electricity, she said last week.

The fire was especially traumatic for Donna because she was trapped in the basement when it started. The cause was an unattended candle that she left in the living room. Donna said because she was recovering from surgery, she was too weak to open the bulkhead doors from the inside. Just a month prior, Donna had surgery to remove a tumor from her rib. Luckily, she was able to call for help with her cell phone. Rushing to her aid was Ossipee Police Officer Anthony Castaldo, who grabbed her arm and pulled her from a small basement window.

"It was scary, I started to panic when I couldn't get the bulkhead open," said Donna Merrow. "The officer just pulled me out. He's my angel, without him I wouldn't have made it."

A week after the fire, Donna says she still cannot bring herself to go into the basement. She's also struggled emotionally and sleeping has become difficult. In the aftermath, she said the home's bulkhead doors will be changed and she'll never burn candles again.

After her rescue, she was taken to Huggins Hospital in Wolfeboro for treatment of smoke inhalation. Donna says she's feeling better now and has been staying outside the home. If she goes inside, she'll be sure to wear a mask.

Donna recommends that all families make a fire escape plan and practice it in the dark to simulate smoke, which will curtail visibility.

No stranger to hardship, Donna has survived several threats to her life and health. In 2008, a downed power line electrocuted her; she has also survived Lyme disease after being bitten by tick.

"I understand they say 'God only gives you as much as you can handle,' but I have to say 'enough already,'" she said.

The Red Cross provided the couple with temporary shelter for a few nights.

Anyone wishing to make a donation to the family may contact them at 833-7497. Donna Merrow says she's grateful for all the assistance she's received so far. Donations can also be mailed to Merrow at P.O. Box 256, Center Ossipee, NH 03814.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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