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Families spend Thanksgiving Eve salvaging belongings from fire-gutted apartments

Published On: Nov 21 2012 03:51:36 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 21 2012 04:53:26 PM CST

Several families in Reading were forced from their homes just a day before Thanksgiving.

READING, Pa. -

Several families in Reading were forced from their homes just a day before Thanksgiving.

Nineteen people were displaced after a massive fire gutted an apartment building in the 1200 block of Hill Road Tuesday night.

Sunlight shined through the roof of a third story bedroom Wednesday. Charred pieces of wood covered a mattress and pillows, and a kitchen that should have soon smelled like turkey reeked of smoke and wet garbage.

"It's just horrible. You see everybody's belongings and pictures. Everything is gone," said Jasmine Schuring, who used to live in the building.

Firefighters battled the 2-alarm fire for eight hours Tuesday night. Six units inside the apartment building were destroyed.

Fire officials said they believe the fire started inside a third-floor bathroom, then quickly spread.

"It's destroyed. The ceiling collapsed and everything and mostly water," said Arnisa Bernabela, who moved into the building this month with her family.

Instead of preparing for Thanksgiving, Bernabela and her husband tried to salvage clothes and anything that was left.

"A lot of the food that's in there I can't cook. I don't know what I'm going to do with the food. I just went shopping yesterday," said Bernabela.

The building dates back to the 1850s and was later converted into apartments.

"I know every inch of this building. I worked with my own hands painting, fixing and doing whatever I could do," said landlord Betty Gonzalez. "Oh my goodness, it's horrible."

Fire officials do not know an exact cause, but they estimate the damage to be between $100,000 and $150,000.

Gonzalez said she plans to rebuild as soon as possible. She said her tenants are like members of the family, and she was just thankful everyone made it out alive.