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Home burns while she’s at midnight mass; 3 pets die

Lillian Lee Nissan her home South Emerald Bridgeport which was gutted by fire early Christmas morning as she attended midnight

Lillian Lee Nissan at her home on South Emerald in Bridgeport, which was gutted by a fire early Christmas morning as she attended midnight Mass. I John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 27, 2013 6:25AM

Lillian Lee Nissan is a devout Buddhist, but a friend asked, so she went along to midnight mass early on Christmas Day.

When she got home, the Bridgeport woman found her three-story apartment building in flames.

No one was hurt in the fire, which started around 1 a.m. at the building in the 3000 block of South Emerald Avenue. The third-floor apartment was vacant, and no one was home on the second floor. Nissan’s first-floor apartment was gutted.

She lost everything, including an elaborate altar where she prayed daily. And her three beloved pets — a cat and two dogs, one a beagle, the other a Pomeranian. All died in the fire.

A distraught Nissan spent Christmas morning talking with neighbors on the street. Some tried to help her save what was left.

Paul Mazutis, who lives across the street, said he hadn’t met Nissan until Tuesday. But he went into the wreckage and found some religious relics and jewelry.

Mazutis said he was shocked at how resilient Nissan was in the face of a big loss.

“She’s in good spirits,” he said. “She’s religious. She’s just happy to be alive. And she feels bad for the pets. But she’s just glad to be alive.”

Phil Abete and his family live next door to Nissan. The windows of their home were cracked, and their home filled with smoke as firefighters battled the fire. Abete, his family and their three puppies were forced to leave the home, ruining their Christmas plans.

“We’re going to have to go out because we can’t have everyone over,” Abete said. “But we’re just happy she’s OK.”

Originally from Yangon in what’s now the southeast Asian nation of Myanmar, Nissan said she has lived in America for more than 35 years.

She practices Buddhism but was asked by a friend to “pray for baby Jesus” at Christmas mass.

“I haven’t gone to mass in almost 10 years, and it was my first time going to the midnight church service,” Nissan said. “It was very nice. And I have good faith. But I just don’t understand why this happened.”

An electrical problem is thought to have sparked the fire. A handyman recently made some electrical repairs.

Nissan said she didn’t have a place to stay and was hoping to find a temporary residence until she can get back into the apartment where she has lived for more than a year.

“I cannot cry any more. I lost my two pets and one cat, and they were all my beautiful babies.

“Especially on Christmas Eve, at midnight mass.”

But she said, “If God took away, he’ll bless me more.”

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