The past year has been a harrowing time of starting over for a city couple with seven children who lost everything in a fire.
Heather and Arlyn Kennedy-Burris and their five children were left homeless last Jan. 20 when a roaring fire gutted the 2 1/2 -story house the were renting at 2455 Grand Ave.
Heather was pregnant with twins at the time.
All they had left were the clothes they were wearing that cold, windy day. The baby cribs, the children's bikes, priceless photo albums, all their other clothes, furniture, kitchenware -- all lost.
"It's been an uphill battle all the way," Heather Kennedy-Burris said last week. "We've done nothing but move. It took us seven months just to buy new cribs for the babies."
The family has since grown to seven children: Elizabeth, 12; Kayla, 9; Desiree, 7; Anya, 5; Joshua, 4; and Brian and Emily, 11 months. Joshua is autistic, his mother said.
"The loss to the family was tragic, but thankfully, no life was lost," said Mayor Vince Anello, who is trying to help.
No benefit was ever held to help the family, and donations are being received for the first time at all Citizens Bank branches in Niagara Falls.
At 12:30 p.m. on that Friday, the fire was "roaring out of control," firefighters said. A strong wind caused the blaze to jump to the attic of the house next door.
As the flames swept through the house, Heather and Arlyn Kennedy-Burris were driving home from a medical appointment.
"It was so windy that day, you could see the flames for blocks," Heather Kennedy-Burris said.
Most of their children were in school at the time. Only 4-year-old Anya and a baby sitter, Marsha Patronski, were in the house.
When the parents arrived at the scene, Heather Kennedy-Burris cried out: "Where's my daughter?"
A neighbor ran outside and told her that Anya and the baby sitter were at her house.
"I held Tanya in my arms and started crying," her mother said. "She was such a brave, grown-up little girl. I remember her saying, 'I'm OK, Mommy, I'm going to be all right.' "
A firefighter had carried Anya to safety and Patronski ran from the burning house. Both escaped without injury.
The other children came home from school to a burned-down house and all their clothes, toys and personal belongings consumed by fire.
"It was sad," said Elizabeth, 12.
Damage to the Kennedy-Burris house amounted to $40,000, rendering it a write-off. It was later demolished. The adjacent house at 2453 Grand Ave. received minor damage. The cause of the fire was never determined.
The Red Cross arranged for the family to stay at the downtown Howard Johnson Inn for the next four nights. After that, they stayed at the Holiday Inn on Grand Island for two months.
"We had several places lined up to rent, but when the owners found out how many children we had they didn't want to rent to us," their mother said.
The parents feel blessed to have such a family.
"If we didn't have the kids, we'd be lonely," their father said.
For three months after their hotel stay, a friend who wants to remain anonymous let the family stay at her unoccupied parents' house.
In July, they moved into their current residence, a two-story rented house on Portage Road with eight bedrooms and a finished basement and attic.
The children's father is a machinist with Olstad Corp. in North Tonawanda and brings home a good wage, but it's a desperate effort to make ends meet, Heather Kennedy-Burris said.
The family needs food stamps. The clothes closets are still mostly empty. The children still don't have bikes.
"We're still replacing the necessities of life," she said. "It's a day-to-day reminder of what we lost."