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Fire displaces beloved school custodian

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N. Liberty Street Fire

Fire damaged a duplex at 327 N. Liberty St. in Centreville Friday afternoon, Nov. 15.

CENTREVILLE — A fire Friday afternoon displaced a beloved Centreville Middle School custodian from his residence.

Goodwill Volunteer Fire Company responded to 327 N. Liberty St. about 2:30 p.m. Nov. 15 for a reported house fire.

Goodwill Capt. Tyler Knapp said the fire was on the first floor of the two-story, wood-frame duplex.

“There were flames coming out of the front windows when we arrived,” he said.

No one was home, and the front door was locked, so the fire department had to force open the door to get inside.

N. Liberty Street Fire

George Thomas

The right side of the duplex sustained most of the damage. The fire was contained to the front part of the house, mostly the living room, Knapp said. There was only a small extension of fire into the left side of the duplex, by the chimney.

Queenstown, Church Hill and Grasonville volunteer fire departments also responded.

The 45 firefighters had the fire knocked down in about five minutes and under control in about 30, Knapp said.

According to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation, the duplex is a rental property belonging to James and Dorothy Pauls of Centreville.

The Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office said the fire was reported by a passerby and started inside the house.

Damage to the structure is estimated at $125,000 and $25,000 to the contents.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, the fire marshal’s office reported.

When members of the community realized it was the home of George Thomas, who has been a custodian with Queen Anne’s County Schools for nearly 40 years, they wanted to help.

Joseph Saboury, chief analyst with the Queen Anne’s County Sheriff’s Office, started a GoFundMe page for Thomas Saturday. He said he knew cash would be an immediate need.

“He’s a nice man. I remembered him from when my kids were in school and wanted to help,” Saboury said.

The narrative on the GoFundMe page describes Thomas: “Quietly working in the background as a custodian, meeting the needs of school staff and children without question or hesitation. Always a smile on his face and a sense to please those around him. Tragically his home was devastated by fire yesterday afternoon, leaving him without his possessions and the comfort of his own surroundings. This on top of other medical issues has created undue stress on a man who is deserving of so much more.”

Saboury set the goal for his fundraiser at $10,000, and $9,280 had been raised by lunchtime Tuesday.

In an update, Saboury posted, “Thanks to all who’ve donated to the GoFundMe in the name of Mr. George Thomas. It’s incredible to think how amazing our community has been to support such a wonderful man.”

People who are more comfortable making direct donations of gift cards or checks may send them to Queen Anne’s County Public Schools, 202 Chesterfield Ave., Centreville, MD 21617, Attn. Sid Pinder.

Saboury said a collection site also has been established at Centreville Middle School to accept food, clothing, towels, bedding and other household related items.

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