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North Hall family tries to bounce back from devastating fire
Chaneys grateful for help after losing belongings, 3 pets
The Chaney family lost everything they owned in the Jan. 16 fire that destroyed their rental house. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

For Todd Chaney, just walking from the doorstep to the mailbox is a difficult task for the 44-year-old, who suffers from congestive heart failure.

But when his house was on fire Jan. 16, he summoned the strength to carry his 4-year-old son from a back bedroom to the safety of a neighbor’s yard before it was too late.

"I’m sure adrenaline helped me get him out," said Chaney, a week after flames devastated his family’s two-bedroom house in the Greenwood Village subdivision off Cleveland Highway. "There was just no way I was leaving him in there."

Chaney and his wife of 16 years, Tina, were still coming to terms Friday with the loss of all their belongings and their pets.

Tina Chaney choked up as she described how the family cats and their treasured 6-year-old Chihuahua, Ginger, died of smoke inhalation while cowering under her 14-year-old daughter’s bed.

"It’s terrible to think about," she said.

On the day of the fire, Todd Chaney was watching television in a living room and his son was watching cartoons in another room when Chaney heard a popping sound that reminded him of acorns landing on a tin roof. After a wisp of smoke floated by his window, he stepped out to see the roof of his carport engulfed in flames.

"My advice to anybody is that it happens very fast," he said. "It spread much quicker than I would have imagined. So if you see it, go."

Soon the family’s Ford Explorer was burning, and the roof of the house was in flames. All Todd Chaney and his son could do was watch.

As 4-year-old Jacob cried that his dog was still inside, Hall County firefighters went about their work of tearing through the house and hosing down the flames. They found the three dead pets and buried them in the backyard.

The house, a rental, was a total loss. The belongings, valued at $10,000, were uninsured.

The cause of the fire, which started in a laundry room off the carport, officially is undetermined, though Todd Chaney believes it was electrical in nature.

"I don’t think there was anything to do to prevent it," he said.

In the aftermath, the Chaneys have seen the giving spirit of Red Cross volunteers, churches, family members, employers and friends.

"We have a lot of really good compassionate people around us," said Tina Chaney, a press operator for the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Right now what the Chaneys need most is a place to live; they’re staying in Tina Chaney’s brother’s house temporarily and sharing a single bedroom among four people. They also need an affordable car to replace the sport utility vehicle that burned.

But for all that’s been done for them already, "we’re very grateful," Tina Chaney said.

"It kind of opens your eyes to the compassion people have when you experience something like this," she said.

Her husband, who said the totality of the fire still hasn’t sunk in, believes his family will weather this crisis.

"We’ve had 16 years of ups and downs," Todd Chaney said. "It’s just another bump in the road — just a little bigger than usual."