Kevin Riordan: After Haddon Heights blaze, money is raised for those in need

Pat Frahme and son Lenny check traps they set to try to catch Raquel Nunn's Maine coon cat, Leo. Leo was reportedly spotted by locals nearby.
Pat Frahme and son Lenny check traps they set to try to catch Raquel Nunn's Maine coon cat, Leo. Leo was reportedly spotted by locals nearby. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 01, 2013

The Haddon Heights inferno that critically injured Raquel Nunn has inspired friends, neighbors, and total strangers to step up, pitch in, and help out.

Employees of a Burlington County orthodontics practice and a Camden County bar and restaurant are raising money for their popular coworker, who has no health insurance and suffered burns on 60 percent of her body.

More than 50 people have contacted police in this comfortable borough of 7,500 to offer assistance. An online fund-raising site has drawn $2,000 in pledges.

And residents of the neighborhood where an explosion and fire - apparently triggered by a gas leak - left a three-story frame structure in ruins Saturday are trying to find Nunn's beloved Maine coon cat, Leo.

"Everyone seems to be deeply affected," said Pat Hovern, 50, a lifelong Heights resident who works with Nunn at Kazmierski Orthodontics.

Sue Watson, who heads the Haddon Heights Good Neighbors organization, said, "People are touched by the magnitude of this."

Five other people resided in apartments inside the White Horse Pike duplex, which the blast and blaze transformed into a charred tangle of debris that still stank of smoke Wednesday.

Two residents received temporary housing and other aid from the Camden and Burlington County Chapter of the American Red Cross. All of the tenants will be assisted by Good Neighbors, an established nonprofit that borough officials have designated as the conduit for monetary donations, which are preferred.

The six victims are believed to have lost everything. But the plight of Nunn, a hardworking young woman with a bright smile and sunny spirit, seems to have touched the most hearts. Nunn grew up in Voorhees, and family members now living on the West Coast have flown in to be by her side.

A benefit is set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Ott's Greentop, the Berlin Township establishment where she has tended bar on weekends since 2011.

"Raquel is one of the best employees I've ever had," said general manager Tim Hamilton, 29, of Turnersville. "Everyone just thinks the world of her. The [staff] and the customers really want to do something for her and her family right away."

Nunn, 26, somehow managed to escape when her third-floor apartment erupted in flames about 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Another resident told authorities she had noticed an odor of gas about four hours earlier; a line to an appliance on the second floor may have been the source of the leak.

Nunn remained in critical condition Wednesday at Crozer-Chester Medical Center, a spokesperson said. A post by her sister Claudia on the "Recovery for Raquel" Facebook page said Nunn "has completed surgery, and they said she was a champ."

She also said the family "is truly blessed" by the support.

Meanwhile, residents of the tree-lined neighborhood around White Horse Pike and Green Street continue to search for Nunn's cat, which several locals said they spotted near a garage on the site.

Pat Frahme, who lives nearby, has fastened "Missing Cat" fliers to utility poles and the cyclone fence surrounding the ruins.

When she and her neighbors heard the initial explosion, "we all started running down the block, and we saw that the top of the house was gone. It was just gone," Frahme, 55, said.

"I was standing near [Raquel], and someone said her cat got out but was missing, and I thought, 'I will do everything in my power to find your cat for you.' "

The can-do spirit is no surprise to Heights Mayor Ed Forte, who has been a volunteer firefighter in the borough for 33 years. Longtime Police Chief Richard Kinkler agreed and said, "It basically confirms everything I already knew."

The spirit isn't confined to one community. Kirsten Trebisky of Marlton works with Nunn at Kazmierski.

"Raquel has a long road ahead of her," Trebisky, 25, said. "I'm not going to let anyone forget about this."


Kevin Riordan:

A look at the aftermath of the Haddon Heights fire:

www.philly.com/heights


Kevin Riordan:

A look at the aftermath of the Haddon Heights fire:

www.philly.com/heights


Checks with "For Victims of the Explosion" in the memo line may be sent to Haddon Heights Good Neighbors, 625 Station Ave., Haddon Heights, N.J. 08035.

Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the Metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.phillynews.com/blinq.

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