- Associated Press - Thursday, December 25, 2014

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Heather and Vann McCullar already had to rebuild once after their Forest Lake home was heavily damaged during the April 27, 2011, tornado. Now, the family has lost their home again - this time likely a total loss - including two of their dogs in a house fire on Dec. 12.

When the tornado hit, the two were in the home with their dogs and climbed out of the rubble in order to help their neighbors, who were trapped and suffered damage. Last week, however, it was their neighbors who tried to come to the rescue, said Linda Parsons, a neighbor who lives across the street.

“The neighbors are the ones who noticed the fire and tried to save the dogs, and were able to get one of them out of the house,” Parsons said.

Parsons called Heather McCullar at her job at DCH Regional Medical Center to tell her about the fire. McCullar rushed home to find firefighters putting out the blaze. Two of her dogs died in the fire. A third family dog survived, along with a stray that the family was fostering temporarily.

“By that evening, tons of neighbors were helping to go through the house, see if anything could be salvaged,” Parsons said.

The couple was able to save a couple loads of laundry that were inside their washer and dryer. But with their bedroom and part of their house destroyed, not much could be saved, McCullar said.

“I don’t know how you start over after something like this,” McCullar said.

The McCullars are temporarily staying with family while they sort out insurance issues. Following the April 27, 2011, tornado, their home was dropped by their insurance company and deemed “high risk.” Their deductible, now with a different company, is $5,000 - which is difficult to afford following such a loss, McCullar said.

“We want to rebuild and think we probably will, but it all depends on what insurance says and what it costs,” McCullar said.

In the meantime, neighbors, friends and strangers have reached out to help. A “GoFundMe” account has been set up to help raise donations for the couple online. Forest Lake United Methodist Church is also accepting cash or check donations if people want to help.

“We recognized that after losing their house to the tornado and then this fire, that this is a way we can help,” said Lyle Holland, minister at Forest Lake Methodist. “People ask what they can do at Christmas to make a difference in someone’s life, but this is a clear and present need that strikes close to home.”

All proceeds go straight to the McCullars, Holland said, the church is just collecting the donations. So far, a number of neighbors and strangers have reach out, he said.

It’s not surprising that people in Tuscaloosa and especially those from Forest Lake want to help, Parsons said.

“All of us have been through some kind of loss with the tornado, and we realize what it’s like to lose everything like that,” Parsons said. “But then they have the added grief of losing two very well-loved pets.”

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