Hammond family narrowly escapes house fire

2012-04-17T17:00:00Z 2012-05-02T19:05:43Z Hammond family narrowly escapes house fireBy Lauri Harvey Keagle lauri.keagle@nwi.com, (219) 852-4311 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | Chanel McCullough and her husband, Louis, were asleep about 7 a.m. Sunday morning when they heard their daughter screaming.

"Oh, my God, the house is on fire," the mother recalled her 11-year-old say.

Louis McCullough, 35, started yelling for his four children ranging in age from 3 to 17, a 13-year-old cousin and a friend visiting from out of town to get out of their home at 916 Spruce St.

Everyone was out of the house, except 12-year-old Treyvon McCullough. His room is in the back of the house near the kitchen, where the fire was the most intense.

"My husband went through the fire," Chanel McCullough said. "My older son and I went around back and started beating on his window."

Louis McCullough, barefoot and wearing only his underwear, shook his sleeping son, but he didn't wake up right away. He finally was able to wake his son to say there was a fire but soon realized they had no way out.

"We were trapped," he said.

Standing outside, 17-year-old Louis McCullough Jr. punched the window with his bare fist to get his father and younger brother out. By the time the family got back to the front of the house, the fire had spread to every corner.

"Windows were breaking, and everything we had was up in flames," the elder Louis McCullough said.

The couple's friend, Donald Dillahay, of Indianapolis, had been staying with them since Thursday. Dillahay and Louis McCullough used to work together as bakers at a Michigan City food processing plant, but both were laid off last fall.

They haven't been able to find work since.

Dillahay came hoping to apply for jobs and had his birth certificate and other important papers with him, which were lost in the blaze.

The only items to make it out unscathed were Dillahay's two Bibles.

Louis McCullough said the couple's pastor and his wife from Greater Grace Church were the first on the scene after the firefighters cleared it.

The husband and wife of 14 years sat in folding chairs in the front lawn in front of the charred shell of their home Tuesday afternoon while fire inspectors worked inside.

"I've never felt so helpless in my life," Louis McCullough said.

Hammond Fire Inspector Diane Brzycki said the fire started in the kitchen but was not related to cooking. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, but the initial probe suggests it was accidental and may have been electrical or caused by an appliance.

"They're really lucky they made it out," Brzycki said. "They barely made it."

Chanel McCullough said Louis Jr. had a 2-inch shard of glass in his arm lodged next to an artery after breaking the window to free his brother and father from the burning home. He had surgery Monday to remove it and on Tuesday his parents were hoping he would be released from the hospital.

"He's doing OK," his mother said. "He's complaining that he's sick of the food, so he's ready to come home."

Louis quietly reminded his wife their son doesn't have a home to come to anymore.

Since the fire, the family has been able to stay with Louis' mother in Merrillville, but her house doesn't comfortably accommodate their large family. His mother is also out of work.

The family had smoke detectors provided by their pastor's wife, but they were still in the box. Their alarm company was supposed to alert them to fire but contacted them hours after the fire was out.

Chanel McCullough said the couple lost their insurance in February when part of their roof came loose. They filed a claim and were told they'd filed too many and were dropped.

"I'm fine with that because we could have had our lives lost," Chanel said.

Louis McCullough said in spite of their loss, they are overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude to God for their lives and to those who have stepped up to help.

"Our neighbors helped so much," Louis said. "I was literally in my underwear. I didn't have a shirt on my back and they helped find me some clothes. I'm just thankful."

He said he does not believe he is a hero.

"I think God's the hero," he said. "I just did what any dad would do. Any dad would do that."

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