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Family counts blessings despite fire

A single mother and her sons lost nearly all their possessions, and they have no insurance. Now they're not sure where to turn.

By MAUREEN BYRNE

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2000


photo
[Times photo: Matt May]
Lisa Mackin holds her youngest son, Nikolas, 2.
CLEARWATER -- Life hasn't been easy for Lisa Mackin.

She was raised in foster homes, endured a bad marriage and has struggled to make ends meet for herself and her two young sons.

Yet her life has never been so good.

Mackin and her sons, ages 8 and 2, narrowly escaped death after an early morning fire Tuesday engulfed their duplex at 1309 Union St. The loss was estimated at $60,000.

Pinellas County sheriff's detectives are investigating the cause of the fire, which has been deemed suspicious.

"Arson has not been ruled out," sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Greg Tita said.

All that was salvageable after firefighters doused the flames was a makeup kit, a bottle of perfume and a handful of family photographs.

"We're all here, though," Mackin said. "We started from zero before and we'll start from zero again."

* * *

Monday night was like any other. Mackin's sons got their baths and went to bed, Nikolas at 8 and Max at 8:30. Mackin fell asleep on the couch, but woke up at 1 a.m. and crawled into bed.

Two hours later she awoke to a loud noise. She said it sounded like "something exploded or fell."

When she opened her eyes she saw smoke rolling across the ceiling. She jumped out of bed. "I opened my bedroom and there was nothing but flames," she said.

The fire was closing in and she needed to move fast. She managed to get to her sons' room without getting burned.

She woke up Nikolas and Max, who "jumped right up," she said. "He never panicked. He never cried."

Mackin opened a window, but the space was too narrow for her and her oldest son. Using her hands, she broke the glass and pushed Max through the window frame. She guided Nikolas through the hole before she crawled through it herself.

"It was like this train coming and we couldn't stop it, but we all just did what we were supposed to do," Mackin said.

She received minor cuts on her arms, and she and Max cut their feet on the pile of broken glass.

Mackin said she is proud of her sons. She said all three of them worked as a team to escape.

"If my kids hadn't made it out, I would have just walked back into that house," Mackin said. "I don't have anything else to live for on this planet than those two boys."

* * *

Surviving a fire and starting from scratch would shatter the lives of most people. Yet Mackin doesn't consider her situation a tragic one. It's just one more obstacle to overcome.

"I would love to just sit here and cry and make phone calls, but that won't bring in any money," Mackin, 29, said in a hotel room where she and her sons stayed last week.

Two days after the fire, Mackin was back at work cleaning homes. Yet without any savings or renter's insurance, she worries where she and her boys will live next.

The Tampa Bay chapter of the American Red Cross, which paid for a hotel room for the family for three nights, cannot provide temporary housing for Mackin any longer. The agency gave her money to buy shoes, clothes, toiletries, diapers and bottles. It also gave her vouchers for items such as beds, linens and towels.

The Red Cross will help Mackin pay her first month's rent, but she has no money for a security deposit or a last month's payment.

"I'm just trying to find somebody willing to work with me," said Mackin, who has lived in the Tampa Bay area since 1995.

She says she has no family to help her. Many of her friends are single mothers, too, and she doesn't want to burden them.

Mackin, who is separated from her husband, says she has worked two jobs at times to avoid being on welfare. And she says she doesn't want to start accepting government assistance now.

* * *

Max, a mature boy for 8 years, has been having nightmares since the fire. A psychologist from the American Red Cross counseled him last week.

Max says he's worried his family won't get a new home, yet he tells his mom everything will be all right.

Friday, he spread new baseball cards his mother bought for him across a bed in the hotel room. His collection was destroyed in the fire.

As of Friday, Mackin wasn't sure where she and her sons would go. She said she may go to a shelter or stay with a friend for a few days.

She says she has her family, and that is enough.

"To me, that is the most important thing," she said.

To help

The Tampa Bay Chapter of the American Red Cross is coordinating efforts to help the family. Call (813) 348-4820.

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