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Fire unites community

An overnight fire April 1 fatally injured sisters Brianna “Bri-Bri” Baer, 15, and Abigail “Abbie” Kaufman, 10. Both were Saucon Valley students.

Left reeling from the unspeakable tragedy, the Hellertown community has responded in the best way it knows how: providing support and resources to surviving family members and other loved ones and uniting in its collective grief.

Flames began just after midnight, ripping through the home of Damien Kaufman and Jennifer Baer on the 600 block of Linden Avenue in the borough. Despite the best efforts of first responders and others, the girls succumbed to their injuries at St. Luke’s and Lehigh Valley Hospitals, respectively.

The blaze – which was announced as having been ruled accidental by Northampton County District Attorney Terry Houck April 6 – also injured the girls’ parents and two police officers (who were treated and released at local hospitals), rendering the home uninhabitable.

Almost immediately following the devastating news, the community sprang into action in direct support of the Kaufman and Baer families, which also have another child from a previous relationship who thankfully was not at the house that night.

A GoFundMe.com online fundraiser, organized by Hannah Tatu to help with “hospital bills, repair bills, and more incidentals,” quickly surpassed its initial goal of $10,000. Its total stands at nearly $120,000 as of this article’s submission - an astonishing figure which underscores the outpouring of concern from empathetic citizens across the region, far beyond those who know the family personally.

Hellertown Mayor David Heintzelman was among the speakers at an April 3 vigil outside the residence which drew approximately 500 attendees,. He shared his thoughts with the Press:

“The Borough of Hellertown grieves the loss of these two extraordinary young children. Abbie and Bri-Bri were fun-loving and energetic. Their loss is the entire Saucon Valley’s loss. Everyone is lost for words and we don’t really know what to do, but providing for their future needs can help at this time. Our hearts ache and we need to start the healing process.”

Heintzelman continued, “There will be ongoing fundraisers for the Kaufman family in the months to come. We hope everyone continues to support them as the family makes adjustments in their lives. Please keep the police, first responders, and last responders in your thoughts and prayers, emotions are very heavy. This is what a small community does – embrace people who are hurting.”

Several borough businesses, including Vassi’s Drive-In, Rita’s, Wings on Main, the Hellertown Crossroads Hotel and the Farmhouse Bakery, donated goods, services and/or a portion of proceeds from sales in the ensuing days, with more plans surely in the works through the upcoming weeks and months.

Hellertown Council President Thomas Rieger echoed the mayor’s sentiments at its April 4 meeting, thanking the community at large for stepping up to support the family - and each other. Rieger noted that Heintzelman and the police and fire chiefs, all of whom are usual attendees of the twice-monthly sessions, were absent that evening due to their attendance at a debriefing session for first responders and other officials.

For Brianna and Abigail’s friends and classmates, Saucon Valley Superintendent Jaime Vlasaty said in a written statement: “The tragic news hit our school community very early on Friday morning through social media and with the quick response of our administration, counselors and staff, we were able to support our District staff, students and families.”

Vlasaty noted that several local districts have offered to lend counselors and other support, and thanked them for their efforts, concluding: “Saucon Valley is blessed to have a strong community who unites when it is necessary and we will continue to embrace Briana and Abigail’s family with the kindness and love Briana and Abigail demonstrated in the Saucon Valley School District.”

PRESS PHOTO BY CHRIS HARING Scenes from the 600 block of Linden Avenue in Hellertown, where a tragic April 1 house fire claimed the lives of sisters and Saucon Valley students Brianna Baer, 15 and Abigail Kaufman, 10.