December 27, 1997 in Nation/World

Girls Who Helped Save ‘Papi’ From Fire Get Shopping Spree

Jacqueline L. Salmon Washington Post

Two girls who helped rescue their elderly grandfather from a fire in his Northern Virginia home were rewarded Friday with an all-you-can-buy shopping spree to replace the clothing they lost in the blaze.

In a 90-minute sweep through the J.C. Penney store at Tysons Corner Center in Washington’s Northern Virginia suburbs, 12-year-old Nicholle Harris-Depaz and her 11-year-old sister, Michelle, scooped up T-shirts, jeans, shoes, warm-up jackets and underwear.

The spree was arranged by Fairfax County, Va., firefighter Marc Straubinger, who was at the fire and who spent Christmas Eve asking merchants to help the girls out.

“We were more than glad to help,” said Kenny Kennard, personnel manager for the Tysons J.C. Penney, who was approached by Straubinger and invited the girls in to shop for free. “The holidays - they’re so hard when you lose everything. It’s so difficult.”

The girls, who had been staying with their grandparents, went out Tuesday with their grandmother, Bertha Depaz, 70, to do some last-minute Christmas shopping. They returned about 11 p.m. to find smoke billowing from the grandparents’ one-story house in the Pimmit Hills neighborhood near Falls Church.

Michelle ran to a neighbor’s home to call 911, and Nicholle dashed into the burning structure in search of her grandfather, Victor, and found him lying unconscious near the Christmas tree. She screamed for a relative, who ran in and dragged “Papi” to safety. The house was destroyed in the fire.

Victor Depaz, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and who finds it difficult to walk, was treated at Inova Fairfax Hospital and Inova Mount Vernon Hospital and released Friday. His family says he is doing well.

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