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From the ashes of Waldorf family's fire-ravaged home rises outpouring of neighborly support

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A blaze on May 9 consumed the Waldorf home of Nobashea House, who said it was "surreal" to watch the fire destroy everything she and her daughters own. The fire occurred on her 30th birthday, which was also Mother's Day.

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By Nathan Rott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 10, 2010; 7:35 PM

Nobashea House talks about her life in two parts: before the fire and after.

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Before the fire, House considered most people too self-absorbed to care about the struggles of those around them. They couldn't be bothered to hold the door for her when she was pushing the wheelchair of her 10-year-old daughter, Taylor, who has cerebral palsy. They wouldn't be patient at restaurants or stores.

It was everybody "crying 'me, me, me,' and not worrying about anyone else," said House, a single mother of two.

Then came the night five months ago when House stood on her neighbor's front porch in Waldorf and watched in disbelief as her home, car and possessions were consumed by flames. Yet, as the fire was being extinguished, friends, neighbors, teachers and strangers began to rally around her, offering clothes, toys, checks, gift cards and hugs.

There were photographs of Taylor shopping, cooking and reading at school, given to House by teachers who knew that nearly all her own photos were gone. There were text messages and phone calls from House's neighbor, Brenda Clinch, providing updates on the reconstruction of her home.

House had lost almost everything she owned, but she knew that she'd gained something as well.

"Just as I was beginning to believe that the goodness in people and their ability to truly care about the needs of others didn't exist anymore," she said, "I was proven wrong."

A surreal loss

It was a neighbor who spotted the fire through a back window of his home at 11:15 p.m. on May 9.

Doug Alley knew that House had been celebrating both her 30th birthday and Mother's Day earlier that evening with family and friends and that they had been grilling food over a fire.

Now he dashed to the tall, wooden fence that separated their yards. The back gate was locked. He tried kicking it in - not even a budge. Frantic, he sprinted for his daughter's trampoline.

"When I was 30, I wouldn't need a trampoline to get over the fence," Alley said. At 39, it was the only way over.

The fire was burning most of his neighbor's back porch and intensifying.


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