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Despite fire, help makes Christmas special for Northlake family

After fire Joe Casanave 17 searches for his wallet his family’s Northlake home Friday. | john J. Kim~Sun-Times

After the fire, Joe Casanave, 17, searches for his wallet at his family’s Northlake home Friday. | john J. Kim~Sun-Times

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It wasn’t the holiday the Casanaves had planned.

But it turned out to be poignant nonetheless.

“I’m blessed because everyone’s OK,” Mike Casanave, 51, said Saturday — just two days after a basement fire gutted his family’s Northlake home, killed four of their pets and scorched all their possessions — including every Christmas gift under the tree.

But he and two of his teenage children who were home Thursday afternoon were able to escape. His other two teenagers were out with friends and his wife was working.

“We have each other,’’ he said. “My house can be replaced.”

The family did get a surprise Saturday, thanks to the generosity of people they don’t even know.

Friends of Casanave, a disabled former firefighter and paramedic, set up a Facebook page Friday pleading for clothes for the family. The Casanaves have since been inundated with heaps of clothes, socks and underwear. And tons of food.

The wheelchair-bound Casanave said he was touched by the “enormous outpouring” from strangers who heard about their plight.

“My daughter looks better than she’ll ever look in years,” he said of 14-year-old Melissa. “I’ve got sweatpants. I’m happy.”

He and wife Deb will spend the next few days looking for a home. They are staying at a Schiller Park hotel, a cost covered by insurance.

The family was intent on celebrating Christmas Saturday despite their misfortune. They went to Deb’s brother’s Northwest Side home where they feasted “like kings” on ham and mostaccioli, Mike Casanave said.

When they got back to the hotel, Mike Casanave was enjoying the time with his family and the gifts his friends gave him: a Frank Sinatra picture and a statue of a firefighter.

Still, he said he knows all too well how much worse his family could have fared.

“They’re never going to see their daddy again,” he said softly, talking about the two Chicago firefighters who died battling a blaze last week.

“It just makes you sit back and think,” he said.

“I’m happy that my family is OK.”

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