Kathy Antoniotti

NEW fRANKLIN: Timothy Hunton believes if not for the grace of God and the kindness of a stranger, he and his family could have perished on Christmas Eve.

Hunton, 58, his wife, Georgia, 48, her elderly parents and her brother had just bowed their heads to say grace Tuesday evening before dinner when disaster struck.

A woman knocked on the door of the Linger Drive home around 5:30 p.m. and told Hunton the house was on fire.

Hunton thought the woman was mistaken and perhaps had seen sparks shooting up the chimney from the fireplace. There was no smell of smoke and the smoke detectors in the home were silent.

He stepped outside to take a look and realized the woman was right — small flames were coming from the home. He told his family to get out and made a quick call to 911.

Just as the family made a hasty exit, the fire, which had taken hold of the insulation in the attic, burst through the family room wall and began to engulf everything in its path.

“In just that few minutes, the fire took over,” Hunton said Thursday.

The fire, which caused an estimated $100,000 in damage to the three-bedroom, ranch-style home, originated in a wall behind the fireplace, New Franklin Fire Chief Steve Leslie said.

“What we believe happened was that heat from fires, over time, basically dried out the wood behind the fireplace and ignited the wall,” Leslie said.

Facing 15-degree temperatures with howling winds and light snow, firefighters from Clinton, Coventry Township, Canal Fulton, Lawrence and Jackson Township battled the blaze for about 22 minutes before bringing it under control.

The structure sustained heavy fire damage to the family room and smoke and water damage throughout the rest of the structure, Leslie said.

Gone were the gifts and gift cards and cash lovingly wrapped for Georgia Hunton’s parents, Tim and Janice, who live in Canal Fulton, and her brother, Jason Ellis, 35, of Doylestown.

Christmas photos that had just been hung on a family room wall are also gone. Boots, shoes, a hooded-sweatshirt and other gifts that Hunton had bought for his wife also burned up.

“The house was gutted. An oily black smoke coated everything and [most] of the windows are broken out. It is doubtful there is anything salvageable,” Hunton said.

None of the couple’s clothing is wearable, he said.

They spent Christmas Day in Cuyahoga Falls with Hunton’s side of the family “smelling smoky,” he said.

Leslie recommends people have their chimneys cleaned and checked by a reputable inspector annually to ensure they are functioning properly. Hunton remembers getting his inspected within the last year or two.

Georgia Hunton said she was able to hold off the devastating feelings of loss through Christmas Day, but by Thursday, she was becoming unsettled and upset.

“I think it’s just starting to hit me,” she said, “but the Lord is going to pull us through.”

Her husband said he hasn’t had the time to think about their future because of the holiday.

“We are grateful to God that we did not lose our lives and experience any physical harm,” Hunton said.

The couple are members of Home Mission in Alliance that has already stepped up to help the family.

Since the couple’s losses are covered by insurance, Hunton asks people to help the next family who might not be as fortunate and in greater need.

He and his wife have been staying with relatives and expect to move into a hotel room. But he will always be grateful to the stranger who saved their lives.

“I would like to thank the person — the woman — who stopped to tell us about the fire. She performed a great service to us.”

Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or kantoniotti@thebeaconjournal.com.