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Two narrowly escape fire, house destroyed in Pleasant Plain

Photo submitted

The Croswhite family of Pleasant Plain lost their home to fire on Saturday, Dec. 7. Family members are, from left, Sebastian (11), Manny 14, mother Tierney, Bexley (2) and Jaya (17). Not pictured: father James.
Photo submitted The Croswhite family of Pleasant Plain lost their home to fire on Saturday, Dec. 7. Family members are, from left, Sebastian (11), Manny 14, mother Tierney, Bexley (2) and Jaya (17). Not pictured: father James.
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PLEASANT PLAIN — A Saturday morning fire in Pleasant Plain has left a family homeless.

Tierney and James Croswhite lost their home in Pleasant Plain to fire Saturday morning, Dec. 7. Though the house was a complete loss, no family members were seriously injured. Two people were home at the time of the fire, and narrowly escaped the flames.

Shortly before 9 a.m. that day, Manny, the couple’s 14-year-old son, was asleep in their home at 101 Market Street. A friend, Matthew Dieter, had spent the night and was sleeping in a room upstairs. Manny had not been feeling well that night, and went to the first floor to sleep.

Tierney, her daughter Jaya, 17, and son Bexley, 2, hopped in the car to pick up Tierney’s son Sebastian, 11, who had spent the night at a friend’s house out of town. Before leaving, she told Manny she was going to pick up Sebastian and get groceries, encouraging him to call her if he didn’t feel better soon.

Manny went back to sleep, but about 45 minutes later, he was awakened by a burning sensation in his lungs. Manny opened his eyes to find that the room was dark from smoke. He could just barely see the light coming through his window.

“I opened the window and put my mouth to the screen so I could inhale air, and I looked back and realized I wasn’t dreaming,” he said. “I saw the smoke and said, ‘OK, I’ve got to get out.’”

Manny’s sister Jaya had been sleeping in the same room to keep him company since he wasn’t feeling well. Thinking she was still there, Manny went to rustle her from her slumber, but quickly realized he was shaking a pile of blankets.

Manny escaped through the window, and his attention turned toward rescuing the other people inside. The Croswhites’ house had an antenna that ran from the ground to near the top of the roof. Manny knew it was the only hope Matthew had of escaping from the second floor.

There was no screen on the upstairs window, so Matthew was able to open the window and, with Manny shouting instructions to him, grab ahold of the antenna to climb down.

“He thought he was trapped up there,” Manny said.

After hearing of their harrowing ordeal, Tierney told her son Manny she was so proud of him for looking out for his friend, while also being smart enough to know not to go up the staircase.

“Manny knew to go out the window and around the house, and I am so proud of him for not going through the house because he would have died,” Tierney said.

Once it was clear Matthew was on his way out of the house, Manny went to look for the rest of his family members, not realizing they had left that morning. From outside the house, he went around pounding on the windows to wake up the family members he feared were still inside.

Manny and Matthew ran across the yard to the house of Manny’s grandma, Tierney Hanshaw, who lives next door.

Hanshaw said, “I kept asking [Manny], ‘Where is everybody?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’”

Hanshaw grabbed her phone and called 911. When she ran over to the house, flames were shooting out from the windows.

“I was in a frenzy because I thought someone was in the house,” Hanshaw said.

Manny remembered that his other siblings had left the house with their mother, so he was sure everyone was safe. The family’s two dogs made it out alive, too, but their coats turned black from the smoke. Within minutes, local fire departments arrived on the scene and began spraying it with water.

Brighton Fire Department was the first to arrive, and called in mutual aid from Fairfield and Richland. Brighton Fire Chief Bill Farmer said the home’s tin roof made it difficult to extinguish the fire on the second floor. An excavator was called in to tear the house down, since the fire had completely gutted it.

The firefighters sprayed the pile of rubble with water, but because the tin mixed with the wood, not all the hot spots were extinguished. The fire rekindled just before midnight that night, prompting the firefighters and excavator to return and put out the blaze.

Farmer said the damage to the house was so extensive that the cause of the fire cannot be determined. He suspects it started in the basement because that area and the floor above it were the most badly burned, and the most badly burned part of a house is usually where the fire started.

Tierney Croswhite said losing her house was a punch to the gut, especially in a year when she’s suffered the loss of a baby and the loss of her father. The house had been in the family for over 100 years. Everything the family owned was in that house, including their Christmas presents. Matthew Dieter, who was just spending the night there, lost his glasses, phone, shoes and coat.

“My car that was parked nearby was melted on one side,” Tierney said.

For the time being, the family is staying at a hotel. Tierney said she doesn’t know the family’s long-term plan.

“I have no plan,” she said. “I’m trying to find a rental.”

For those who wish to help the Croswhite family, Tierney said gift cards and gas cards are much appreciated. Her daughter Jaya goes to Washington to attend high school and study at Kirkwood Community College’s nursing program, while Manny and Sebastian attend school in Fairfield.

The Lord’s Cupboard in Fairfield is taking donations for the family. For more information, contact Tierney at tftwi35@gmail.com, or call her nephew Giuseppi Smith at 641-451-1969.