SUN CITY (3TV/CBS 5) -- Every year, the fire department demonstrates how quickly a Christmas tree fire can spread. When it happened to a valley man, his neighbors called on Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad to lift his spirits and give him a helping hand.
[ORIGINAL STORY: Christmas tree may have sparked house fire in Sun City]
Larry’s neighbors describe him as a vital part of their community. He gives rides to doctor’s appointments, trouble shoots computer problems and even let a neighbor wash her clothes at his house when her machine broke.
On December 23, 2018, Larry had a party at his house, so all his neighbors could meet each other.
“The house was so nice,” said neighbor Char. “He had just gotten it fixed up and was so proud of it. He wanted everybody to see it.”
“The party was a big success,” said neighbor Nels, who nominated Larry. “And he went to bed that night and his house burned down.”
“It was pitch black,” said Larry describing waking up to his house on fire. “And you could hear the house just taking in air. Swoosh! I’ve never heard anything like it before and then crash! Bang! Just stuff exploding inside the house. I planted face first, out in the garden of my bedroom window. I went to my neighbors beating on their doors screaming.”
“He came pounding on my door,” said Nels. “And I opened the door and he was already running down the street and said, ‘call the fire department, call 9-1-1 cause my house is on fire!’”
Nels invited Larry to come to his house to see all his neighbors and catch them up on his home’s restoration but when he walked in he was greeted by Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad.
“Surprise!” the group shouted when he entered.
“I remember your story and I remember how heartbreaking it was,” said 3TV anchor Gina Maravilla. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for your loss across the street.”
“Yeah, quite an ordeal it was,” said Larry.
“We were contacted by your neighbors who are incredibly grateful, and they miss you,” said Maravilla.
“That’s sweet. That’s very sweet,” said Larry. “I think this community was built on community. It was people who walk the streets. They knew their neighbors. And when I moved here I didn’t notice that as much as I wanted to. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do. Bring everybody together. Plus, I’d had multiple eye surgeries and I had just had eye surgery a few days before that.”
“You just remodeled, right,” said Maravilla.
“I had,” said Larry. “I had just spent the last two or three years remodeling. I tore down walls, put in a new kitchen, the flooring. The party was to show everybody. It was Christmas. I bought a live tree. Spent all that time making it beautiful, just to see it all black and charred.”
“Your friends and neighbors all contacted us to help them give back to you. From Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad and our Valley Toyota Dealers, we want to give you this,” said Maravilla.
“Oh, my goodness!” said Larry when he opened a box to reveal a gift of $1000.
“Oh, wow!” said Nels, as the neighbors applauded and cheered.
“We’ll have a party now,” laughed Larry.
Larry then took Maravilla across the street for a tour of his home’s devastation.
“Did you lose pretty much everything?” asked Maravilla.
“Absolutely. Everything,” said Larry. “I had a car in here. It was completely wiped out. That was a shed. A laundry, slash shed. Beautiful porch with ivy. Right there was this big granite buffet with a Christmas tree right in the middle of it. Down that way was my bedroom. I was lying in bed. I heard a noise, crackling or something. I looked down from the hallway. The tree being right there was fully engulfed and hitting the ceiling. Apparently, this tree went up into the attic. It was a disaster. Because I was sick, I think I’m still alive, because I was awake.”
Larry and Maravilla returned to his neighbors after the tour.
“There’s something more,” said Maravilla as she handed Larry’s original gift box back to him.
“Go ahead and flip the paper over.”
“What?” said Larry as he revealed a gift of $4000 of furniture from MOR Furniture for Less.
“Our partners at MOR Furniture, they heard about you and they wanted to come together with us,” said Maravilla. “We know insurance doesn’t cover everything and we know you had a lot of beautiful furniture that you collected over the years and, so we hope that this is a good start.”
“Awww. Thank you so much. Right. No words. That’s so cool. Thank you very much,” said Larry giving Maravilla a hug, while the crowd cheered. “Thank you. Thank you, Nels and everybody else. What a great neighborhood I live in. I can’t wait to live here again.”
Thank you to Mor Furniture for Less for partnering us for with this surprise.
Arizona’s Family Surprise Squad is sponsored by your Valley Toyota Dealers.