A Hamburg family describes horrifying moments of escape from fire

HAMBURG, N.Y. (WIVB) — Their house is destroyed, as are most of their belongings, but the Neureuters consider themselves blessed.

Their six-member family is alive and together, and together they’ve experienced miracle after miracle that continues to strengthen their foundation and their belief in God, and help them further realize the generosity of their community.

Early Tuesday morning, a fire tore through their Rosedale Avenue home, where all but one of Jeff and Susan Neureuter’s four children were sleeping. One of their sons was staying at the family’s cottage.

Each was forced to jump from a second-story bedroom window to escape the flames and thick black smoke. Two of the children received minor injuries from the jump and the smoke. Susan fractured a disc in her back, and was released from the hospital.

But the mental anguish is proving more difficult to overcome, she said.

“I’m really struggling not to relive those few minutes in our house and all the what ifs,” Susan said through tears Friday. “It’s a minute-by-minute battle to not go there.”
“There” was the inferno that investigators said started in or near the garage, and quickly engulfed most of their home.
“It was so chaotic, the alarm and the noise, the noise of the fire was so loud,” she said. “It was all so disorienting.
“By the time we were ready to jump, the fire was so loud and there were all these explosions happening, just popping and explosions,” she added. “In that chaos … It was either get out or don’t. That’s all it was.”
When the five of them got to the front yard, they were met by their golden retriever, who had likely escaped through the front door that appeared broken. Sadly, the family’s other dog, Nellie, did not make it out.

“What in all logic we should be experiencing right now, God was with us,” she said. “He led us out of that home.”

The fire is considered suspicious, but it has not yet been ruled an arson.

Village police arrested a man they found that morning in the front yard of a home next door.

Nicholas Harms, 31, of Eden, was standing shoeless in the grass, his pockets full of items police allege he stole from the Neureuters.

Hours earlier, police said Harms broke into the Neureuters home, went through their kitchen and stole a debit card from a purse. He then found two sets of keys in a cupboard, and used them to rifle through vehicles parked outside, police said. Police said he stole a GPS device and electronics.

At some point, he started the family’s lawn tractor and drove it outside the garage, Susan said, adding that Harms was believed to be intoxicated.

“All of this was happening and we were all asleep,” Susan said. “And none of us heard any of this.”
That’s likely because of the window air conditioning units in their bedrooms.
Neighbors on Friday said they heard the tractor start, and what sounded like someone banging on metal. Then they saw the flames.
Harms is facing eight charges, including burglary, grand larceny, trespassing and criminal possession of stolen property.
“You don’t destroy people’s lives,” Susan said. “Everything, their childhoods, everything in our home is gone.”
But, she added, she has let go of one very prominent and powerful emotion: Anger.
“I forgave him because I can’t put my energy there,” she said. “You can’t move forward unless you do.”

The days since the fire have been a blur for the Neureuters, but they’ve been amazed by their community’s swift and generous outreach.

“It’s stunning. We are so overwhelmed by our community, by our friends, by even the people we don’t even know,” she said. “It just brings us to tears that people who don’t even know us or who don’t want to be recognized are so willing to bless us.”

Though they lost most of their belongings, the Neureuters were able to salvage some of the most important.
A few days after the fire, Jeff returned to gather what he could. He walked over to a window seat near the living room, and carefully opened the top expecting the worst.
Inside were a dozen family picture albums, the visual history of their lives, slightly damp but otherwise unscathed.
“You ask and you shall receive, the Bible tells that to us, and it’s happening every hour,” she added. “Behind such a great tragedy the blessings have been beyond measure.”
Hundreds of dollars in gift cards and cash have been donated to the family, through the Village of Hamburg, which is using village hall as a central drop-off point. A GoFundMe page had raised more than $18,000 as of late Friday.
Harms appeared in Hamburg Village Court Friday for his felony hearing. But it was pushed back to Sept. 6. He remains out of jail on $100,000 bail.

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