Originally created 12/26/05

Family lose their home, keep decorations, spirit



For the past 27 Decembers, Janet and William Gross, of Beech Island, filled their front yard with a lavish display of Christmas lights and decorations.

This year, the Christmas display is still there, but the Grosses are not.

Mr. and Mrs. Gross, along with their two teenage daughters, are living in North Augusta after their home was gutted by an electrical fire Dec. 19.

They lost most of their belongings, Mrs. Gross said, but they will keep up the outdoor Christmas decorations, which survived the blaze, through the holiday season.

"People have told us, 'You don't know what a blessing and a comfort your lights have been to us,'" she said.

Since the fire, however, friends and neighbors have reversed roles to bless and comfort the Gross family. They have given them living room, dining room and kitchen furniture for the small North Augusta house Mrs. Gross inherited.

"The house was completely empty. Everything was donated. The only thing that was there was a stove and a microwave," said the Grosses' 25-year-old son, Michael.

He said his parents rented the Beech Island house and did not have renters' insurance.

His employers - Michele Claeys, Barbara Wahl, Nina McKenzie and Peggy Wright - and several area churches donated much of the furniture, he said.

"I'm just speechless. It's amazing, especially at Christmastime," Michael Gross said.

A neighbor gave the family blankets and coats as they stood outside their burning home, Mrs. Gross said. The woman also tucked $50 into her husband's coat pocket, she said.

"We didn't have shoes or anything," said Mrs. Gross.

She discovered the fire at about 6:15 a.m. in her bedroom.

"We thought it was a small fire, and we tried to put it out," she said. "We didn't know it was surging all through the back of the wall."

Her husband was treated as an outpatient at Doctors Hospital for the second-degree burns he got on his fingers when he tried to extinguish the fire. Otherwise, the family wasn't hurt.

Mrs. Gross said firefighters threw their Christmas presents out the window in an attempt to save them. The packages were damaged by the smoke.

Even though her voice cracked with emotion at times, Mrs. Gross said this might be her family's best Christmas yet.

"We're grateful, and we know the Lord delivered us," she said.

Reach Betsy Gilliland at (803) 648-1395, ext. 113, or betsy.gilliland@augustachronicle.com.