By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Dec. 21, 2017) Hank and Julie Koenig of Berlin are rebuilding their home, following a fire at their 100-year-old residence on South Main Street last week that destroyed family heirlooms and claimed the lives of two beloved housecats.
The home, built in 1914 and known locally as “The Pruitt House,” had been featured during Victorian Christmas tours of Berlin.
Linda Walls, Julie Koenig’s sister, said she was on her way to Newark last Tuesday when she got a phone call delivering the bad news.
According to Walls, Julie accidentally left her cellphone at home that morning and was busy at work, at a doctor’s office West Ocean City, when neighbors reported the fire to the Berlin Fire Company. Other responders included fire departments in Showell, Ocean Pines, Newark and Ocean City.
After receiving a call at work, Julie went home at about 1:30 p.m. and the house was still ablaze. Hank arrived later, followed by their son, Lucas, and daughter, Lindsay, who drove from her home in Baltimore.
“They were in shock, as anybody would be, and, of course, grieving,” Walls said, last Wednesday.
She remembers standing on front porch with the Koenigs, Tuesday night, surveying the damage with flashlights.
“It was an electric fire, according to the preliminary findings of the fire marshal,” Walls said. “It came from the den and the desk and the computer area. The left side of the house was especially involved … you could see scorch marks all the way up to the attic dormers. And there were several places where the roof had holes in it.”
She said all the windows were shattered, many of which were original to when the home was built.
The fire, Walls said, did slightly less damaged the right side of the house, although smoke and water damage persisted throughout.
“It was very much in the air still – the results of the fire and the odor,” she said. “I know I was coughing a lot.”
The Koenigs celebrated their annual Christmas party the previous Saturday and were known for their love of holiday. The house was heavily decorated, inside and out, with tinsel, lights and scores of antique decorations. Walls said one tree in the home had about 1,500 ornaments.
“They’re so into Christmas and Christmas tradition, and all of the family Christmas pieces that have been handed down [were damaged or destroyed],” Walls said.
Also lost were two of three family cats, Bud-Bud, a large, yellow cat with a bent ear, and Oreo, who was black and white. Walls said both were about 15 years old.
“That was the toughest thing to hear, because they’re so close to their cats and always have been over the years,” she said. “They usually have about three or four cats at a time, and they’re all gigantic and they all live their lifespan with them. They’ve had probably three generations of cats – maybe four – in that house.
“For all of them it’s so hard, but Hank is just such an animal lover,” Walls added. “He loves all animals, but especially cats.”
Dalí, named after painter Salvador Dalí, was outside at the time of the fire and survived.
Walls said the family was humbled by the outpouring of community support that started immediately after news of the fire spread.
“So many loving people they knew and people they didn’t know were walking up to the sidewalk [last Tuesday] … saying ‘we want to help, what can we do to help?’” Walls said. “It’s really hard for them to except help, because they’re giving people and receiving is difficult for them.”
A GoFundMe page, as of Monday, raised $11,415 of a $10,000 goal in just five days.
Sherrie Beckstead set up the page, designed to cover noninsured expenses associated with the fire.
“We have known the Koenig Family since they moved to South Main Street [in 1995]. Our children grew up together and have shared commemorative moments as families and friends,” Beckstead said. “Our entire family and all of the neighbors are deeply saddened. Julie and Hank exemplify the passion and pride of the Berlin family community.”
Walls, in an email on Friday, added it “just blows my mind how folks in Berlin have been mobilizing to help in a myriad of amazing ways.”
“[Hank and Julie] would like to thank the five volunteer fire companies who responded, neighbors, friends and local churches who offered immediate prayers and comfort, the Beckstead family who set up a GoFundMe page, the Facebook community for providing donations and words of encouragement, the Waystead Inn, Ivy Wells and the Town of Berlin, and all the folks, both known and unknown, who have offered a helping hand, supplies, prayers, donations and love,” she said. “Out of this trying time has emerged an abundance of goodness.”
She said the Koenigs are planning on “rehabbing wherever possible and rebuilding the sections [on the home] where the fire was worse.”
The Berlin Welcome Center is accepting donations on behalf of the family, which can be dropped off Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Dec. 22 and 26, or mailed to Berlin Welcome Center, 14 South Main Street, Berlin, Maryland, 21811.
Walls said items needed include gift cards to Home Depot, Marshall’s, Goodwill, ReStore, Dollar General and local restaurants.
A list of additional items needed include:
- Small and medium storage bins with lids and handles, or larger bins with wheels
- Battery-powered or solar lanterns
- Battery-operated motion lights
- AA, C and D batteries
- Canned or bagged cat food
- Cleaning products to clean soot from glassware, wood and other surfaces
- Paper towels and soft rags for cleanings
- Sandwich and quart-sized freezer bags
- Large trashcans with lids and trash bags
- Breathing masks to use while cleaning the home
- Quilted or cushioned containers for packing dishware and glassware, including clean, empty egg cartons
- Boxes and bins designed for packing ornaments
- Insulated mailing bags for packing wall art
- Bubble wrap
- Bottled water and healthy snacks for volunteers, including granola or energy bars, juice boxes and apples
- Bath towels, new or old, for packing
For questions, contact Walls at 410-758-7335.