On that Saturday, the lawn in front of 2582 Fordham St. had been the site of shock, horror and pain -- the air filled with smoke from the fire that torched the family's home, killing nine, eventually 10, people, injuring three others and changing the lives of all involved, including the Menlo Park Fire District firefighters, forever.
"It was a terrible tragedy. I'm sure a lot of people besides family are affected," said Tony Trail, an "adopted" member of the McKean family, which has always included many others.
The family, centered around matriarch Verna McKean, 87, lost five children and four adults that morning.
McKean couldn't bear living in the house following the fire and now lives elsewhere in East Palo Alto.
"It's just hard to come over here. ... I see where the children used to sit," she said.
Sitting in her small kitchen packed with people Saturday, a golden cross around her neck, McKean tears up she listens to a poem from a friend.
She credits her faith in God for bringing her through the tragedy.
"We are strong people," Michael McNack said. McKean's 40-something grandson has become a leader of the family that has lived in East Palo Alto since the late 1950s.
"We move on. We build our family, and we build it even stronger."
McKean had eight children, each of whom had at least four children, McNack said. Then they had children. McKean is a great-great-grandmother now.
"I'm blessed. ... I have a lot to be thankful for," McKean said.
And to honor the nine who died in the blaze, new babies received their names, McNack said.
There are namesakes for Alma, Darcy, Sonya, Jameace, Donta, Angelika, Kanita, Anthony and Bonnie.
"We have a little everybody," McNack said.
Although nine died in the fire, Teresa Cotton died a year later from her injuries, McNack said.
And Devon McKean, the only child to survive, is now a 20-year-old artist. Shy, with shoulder-length plaits, Devon said he doesn't talk about the experience much. He remembers nothing before waking up in the hospital.
"I just keep it to myself," he said.
Devon still lives at 2582 Fordham St.
Although the family received an outpouring of donations, the money wasn't enough to rebuild, McKean said. She borrowed funds and family members pitched in, building a new home, painted a bright turquoise, that looks much the same as the old one. McKean is proud that she's been able to repay the loans.
Although the family gets together for a barbecue every year -- and did so even before the fire -- this year was special, McNack said.
Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman also believed the 10th anniversary was special. He held onto the Menlo Park Fire District's report about the incident until last week, because the wounds from the incident were just too raw previously.
But he thinks the community, and new firefighters, needs to be reminded of the tragedy. And he wants to recognize the valiant efforts of the firefighters who faced the Fordham fire.
Firefighters, who were on the scene less than three minutes after getting the call, encountered five cars, burglar bars, padlocked doors and three dogs, Schapelhouman has said.
The house also didn't have a smoke alarm.
Despite the obstacles, the firefighters managed to save two people trapped inside the house. Four firefighters -- Mike Cochrane, Dave Carr, Ken Steele and Greg Mays -- were injured or burned.
They lived through "every firefighter's nightmare," according to the report.
After slicing through the bars, battling off the dogs, choking through the smoke, carrying victims with skin peeling from their bodies and unwedging a child from behind the toilet, it still wasn't enough.
The firefighters declined honors, telling their chief "we lost that day," Schapelhouman said.
"What we are going to do is to make sure this doesn't happen again," he said.
The district launched a campaign to install burglar bars that can be released from the inside and to ensure that fire codes are enforced. At least 600 homes have participated in the burglar bar-replacement program, Schapelhouman said.
The fire was arson, investigators concluded, ignited by a flammable liquid in the carport, spreading into the garage and then throughout the single-story house.
The family disagrees with the conclusions.
McNack said the fire was "something in His plan bigger than all of us. None of us could stop that."
McNack said he would have known if someone was after a family member.
And he doesn't think the burglar bars were an obstacle. They only covered about a quarter of the windows, McNack said, comments echoed by McKean.
Nonetheless, the family is grateful for the firefighters' efforts, he said.
"The Fire Department did their best," McNack said.
Investigators haven't given up trying to find the arsonist, San Mateo County Capt. Don O'Keefe said. They've conducted about 100 interviews and are still looking, he said.
The report gives a graphic, detailed account of the firefighters' actions. It is available at www.menlofire.org/FORDHAM.html.
This story contains 939 words.
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