NEWTON FALLS - Dennis and Conni Musser had just dropped their three children at their grandparents' home on Aug. 13, when a friend called them shortly after 9:30 a.m. saying there was a fire near their Craig Beach home.
As the couple rushed back to 17439 Afton, they saw their home catch fire and witnessed one of two gas explosions.
The Mussers, along with Joyce and Charles Hamrick, 17341 Afton Ave., lost their home in the fire.
Tribune Chronicle / Raymond L. Smith
Jessica Hampton holds a basket full of 50-50 raffle tickets over her head as Tyler Copeland, Cloie Musser and Dassani Musser wait to pick the names of multiple winners of prizes that were sold as part of a fundraiser held to help the Musser family.
On Saturday, Jessica Hampton, of Newton Falls, held a fundraiser for the Musser family, who have since bought a home in Newton Falls.
The Hamricks, meanwhile, are moving to North Carolina. Both retired, they have been splitting their time between Trumbull County and a trailer they have in North Carolina.
"We will be staying there over the next six months," Joyce Hamrick said. "We lost everything here. Our insurance company gave us just enough to pay the mortgage of the house and about $23,000 more that will allow us to put in a down payment on a new home."
The Mussers' home had been in Conni Musser's family for at least three generations.
"We have a new house, but it is not our home," Dennis Musser said. "The family memories are not in this house. Yes, we will be creating new memories, but they will not be the same."
Like the Mussers, the Hamricks were not home at the time of the fire.
"They still have not found out what caused the fire," Joyce Hamrick said. "We've been told they believe there was an explosion at our gas line."
Both families expressed frustration Saturday that initial reports focused on disagreements between the Craig Beach and the Milton Township fire departments instead of what happened to the families.
The Craig Beach Fire Department is about a half-mile from the homes, but according to an agreement signed in 2007, that department cannot respond unless dispatched by Lake Milton.
The agreement was struck because financial problems in the Craig Beach fire department. As such, Milton Township is contracted to handle EMS and fire emergencies in the village.
Milton Township, Palmyra, Lordstown, Newton Township and Jackson Township fire departments responded.
Jessica Hampton, who helped to organize Saturday afternoon's fundraiser, was asked to help by others in the area because of her past fund-raising experience.
"I wanted to do something, because I am also a survivor of a house fire that in 2005 destroyed everything we had," Hampton said. "I know what they are going through."
Conni Musser calls the generosity of the community extraordinary.
"We did not know the majority of people who helped with this fundraiser," she said. "I am very grateful."