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Residents rally to help families after fire

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Posted: Friday, October 11, 2013 4:30 am

It only took three minutes for the Thipharacksa and Melendez families to lose everything as they watched their home reduced to ashes.

A suspected electrical fire at their home in the 200 block of West Bob White Lane in Harker Heights on Sept. 25 left the families of seven homeless. Just when they thought they were on their own to pick up the pieces and sort through the ashes, help came from some unexpected places.

“When I read their story, I felt a nudge in my heart from God to help them,” said Rebecca Pearce, a Harker Heights resident. “When I found out there was no fund set up yet to contribute to, I decided to find out what was involved in creating one. So many people wait around for ‘somebody to do something,’ and I decided I was ‘somebody.’”

Pearce took it upon herself to set up a benefit account with Extraco Banks to help the families get back on their feet. She also spread the news via social media and through her parish.

“If I were in their situation, I would hope there was someone out there who would do that for me and my family,” she said. “Harker Heights is a small community, and even though I don’t know this family, I still consider them my neighbors.”

When Taina Thipharacksa got the call that someone they had never met wanted to help them, she said she couldn’t believe it.

“When I heard that this woman, who I had never met before, wanted to help us, I was overwhelmed with happiness,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that a stranger would go out of their way to help us. We are so grateful for everything she is doing for us and for what the Red Cross and Central Texas College did for us as well.”

The families, along with four children — Nathaniel, 6; Shakira, 8; Yashira, 12; and Joshua, 14; and Taina’s father, Miguel Melendez, — moved from Copperas Cove into the Harker Heights trailer two months ago.

“I had just resigned from my job and my husband was the only one supporting all of us so we needed to downsize,” Taina Thipharacksa said. Her husband, Soutta Thipharacksa, is also a full-time student at Central Texas College. “We were just starting to get back on our feet financially when our house burned down. You never think something like this can happen to you and we were not prepared. We are so thankful to everyone who has reached out to help us.”

Deputy Fire Chief Glenn Gallenstein said the Harker Heights Fire Department was on the scene within three minutes. By the time crews arrived more than 50 percent of the structure was engulfed in flames and the home was a “total loss.”

Taina Thipharacksa and Melendez were cleaning up the kids’ room that morning when they noticed a strange smell.

“We both smelled something funny, like wires melting,” Taina Thipharacksa said. “The next thing we knew there was a cloud of gray smoke that turned into black smoke and then we saw the fire coming out of the left side of our house. It was like a scene from a movie.”

The family has moved into a new home in Harker Heights and started the lengthy process of putting their lives back together.

“We are grateful for everything the community and Central Texas College is doing for us,” Soutta Thipharacksa said. “They replaced my schoolbooks and are not penalizing my wife for not going back to school at this time. We are both just trying to get better jobs to better support our family and anything anyone can do for us is really appreciated at this time.”

How to help

To donate, visit any Extraco Banks branch and tell them you want to donate to a benefit account for the Thipharacksa Family.

Donations can also be made by mailing a check or money order payable to Extraco Banks. In the memo line and the second address line write: FBO Thipharacksa Family. Checks need to be mailed to 100 W. Central Texas Expressway, Harker Heights, TX 76548.

Make a donation online through bill pay and use the same information and address as for mailing a check, but choose the option for a paper check instead of E-check.

Currently, the families still need furniture, such as beds, mattresses and dining room chairs and clothing. To learn about their specific needs, call Tania Thipharacksa at 254-226-8329.

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