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AUSTIN EDITION Family picks up pieces after fire

By Jeff Hansel

jhansel@postbulletin.com

Christmas was a mix of loss and joy for Ruth and David Schneider, whose home was ravaged by fire Dec. 19.

They survived, but about $130,000 in damage was done to the home and its contents.

"My 31⁄2-year-old; grandson is very upset. He lost his fish," Ruth Schneider said Friday morning. No people were injured, but 14 fish died, including one name Tigger that the Schneiders had owned for nine years. The fire was caused by a faulty fireplace flue.

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"They were his fish. He kind of named them. We had just gotten a plecosthemus probably eight months ago, and he named him Aggie," Ruth said Friday, just before two contractors slid the fish tank onto their knees, gripped the underside and carried it out the back door.

"When he'd come up to the tank, all 14 fish would come up to him and kind of do little dances for him," Ruth said.

She watched silently as the men tipped the tank into the yard, pouring the water into the snow. The reality of the situation sank in with it.

Named after his grandfather, little David does not understand. He mistakenly believes firefighters started the fire. His family celebrated Christmas, striving for normalcy for his sake.

In some ways it's hard to tell anything is wrong with the Elton Hills home.

But a block or more away, the smell of smoke hangs sweet and pungent in the neighborhood.

A mush consisting of water, insulation, ceiling materials and soot covers the home's carpeting. The grimy pulp soaks into shoes. The Schneiders try to recount for insurance adjusters what used to be in the home.

Firefighters saved Christmas presents, family heirloom paintings and a prized photograph of the elder David's grandmother. The couple thanked them by stopping at the 41st Street fire department.

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The Schneiders believe Jack, their puppy, saved their lives. David let Jack out of his crate Monday night, before the fire, to stop incessant whimpering. The couple dozed off, despite Jack's complaints.

"All of a sudden, I had a wet nose on my face," Ruth says as she wandered the home's dank rooms. When Jack roused Ruth, orange fire glowed in the living room.

"We just got dressed and called 911, and out the door we went. I've heard before that dog spelled backwards is God -- and at this point I believe it, because if it wasn't for him we wouldn't be here," Ruth said.

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