- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 15, 2004

ELKRIDGE, Md. (AP) — Farin and Debbie Crone, former Christian missionaries with nine children, were looking forward to spending Christmas in their new home.

The Crones were to settle today on Howard County’s first Habitat for Humanity house, a pale yellow split-level in Columbia. Moving day was set for tomorrow.

But then a fire broke out Monday night, causing extensive charring and smoke and water damage to the interior of the house.

“All my thoughts were focused on us being in there for Christmas,” Mrs. Crone said.

She wept when she heard the news. But on further reflection, the family saw the mishap as a blessing.

“I’m just so thankful for the timing,” she said. “It’s a blessing in itself because a week later, we would have been in the house.”

No one was injured, and no personal property was lost in the fire. County fire investigators have not determined a cause.

The fire, discovered by Habitat volunteer Mark Webster just after dark Monday, set back three years of planning and more than eight months of construction by volunteers from the faith-based housing group. Repairs are likely to take at least three months.

Completing the house was a milestone for the group in a county where the median price of a house is $395,000 and affordable lots are hard to find.

“I really felt for the Habitat people” after all the work they had put into the project, Mrs. Crone told the Baltimore Sun.

No one in the family has seen the damage to the house.

Mrs. Crone, who home-schools her children, said that although she broke down when she got initial word of the fire on Monday night from Habitat Chairman Bob Warner, she quickly recovered. Her husband never faltered, she said, and the children proved even more resilient.

“I just think his faith is a lot stronger than mine,” she said. Her husband believes, she said, that “God’s in control of everything — and this, too.”

The children remain confident, she said, because they know they will get to move into the new house — just not as soon as they had hoped.

Karis, 13, the Crones’ eldest daughter, told her younger sisters, “Well, this just means we have longer to get closer as sisters,” Mrs. Crone said.

Their five daughters share one bedroom.

Friends threw the family a house shower on Sunday at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, and the children received gift certificates that they used to buy bedding and items for their rooms — all of which will go into storage in a friend’s basement.

The new house has four bedrooms and a bathroom for the children on the ground floor, and a master bedroom, bath, kitchen and dining area, and living room on the top level. The two older boys and the two younger ones will share bedrooms, while the two older girls and the three younger also will share bedrooms.

Now that they know they are staying for a while, the Crones are preparing their Elkridge duplex for Christmas, using decorations that they had hoped to put up in their new home.

Mr. Warner said it likely would take at least three months to rip out damaged walls, waterlogged carpets and burned kitchen cabinets and appliances and replace them.

“We’re devastated. We had set ourselves a goal to be able to have this family able to spend Christmas in their new home. That was our driving force,” Mr. Warner said.

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