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Maryland couple continue with wedding after escaping fire at bride's family home

Groom Matthew Denakis and bride Carol Ben-Atar. (Left: Family photo from Facebook, Right: ABC7 photo)

The white-hot fire and smoke ripped through the Ben-Atar family home in just minutes.

“I woke up, I woke my wife, and I’m like, something is burning,” Eric Ben-Atar said. “In five minutes, the whole thing was like in flames. Five minutes, the whole thing.”

The overnight blaze, which broke out around 2:30 a.m. Sunday morning, left the garage of the Keeneland Circle home in Potomac in ruins.

Charred embers, twisted metal, half-burned books and file folders were everywhere.

The upstairs is gutted, some windows boarded up, gutters singed black.

Authorities estimate the damage could be as much as $400,000.

“I wake up, the room is filled with smoke, my mother in law screaming fire,” said Matthew Denakis, who had been trying to catch some sleep. “My wife and her friend were running out of the house.”

Photographs tweeted out by Montgomery County Fire and Rescue show a giant, glowing ball of flame erupting from the Ben-Atar house.

Then, firefighters gathering around the still smoking garage.

A wedding party, 17 people in all, escaped the flames with only the clothes on their backs.

“Everybody was in shock, crying here and there, my wife, my son,” Ben-Atar said. “Other than that, everybody’s safe, this is one good thing.”

“We just wanted to make sure everyone got out okay, that everyone was safe,” Ben-Atar’s daughter Coral said. “The firefighters came, and they came pretty quick.”

Matthew and Coral, and in fact, everyone, escaped without injury, but the timing couldn’t have been worse.

Sunday was supposed to be the couple’s wedding day.

Family members had flown in from Israel and the Pacific Northwest.

Fire or no fire, nobody wanted a delay.

“We did a courthouse wedding and we’ve been waiting all year for this,” Coral said firmly. “It’s been a long time coming, and everyone’s been planning.”

The most important thing, everyone agreed, was that no one, especially the babies in the wedding party had been hurt.

“Incredible strange,” Matthew said with a smile.

After all, he and Coral had driven all the way up from Fort Benning, Georgia, to celebrate their nuptials with family and friends.

“It’s not something you’d expect at 3 a.m., the morning of your wedding," Matthew said.

The blaze destroyed some possessions, even some decorations for the ceremony.

But this family showed it has almost as much determination, as love.

“To make a happy day out of a sad one,” Coral said.

And so it was quickly decided, that despite all the damage, the loss of property, a sleepless night, that this wedding would go on.

“We’re not going to let this take over, we are going to enjoy ourselves,” Matthew said. “It’s brought our families closer together. It’s very uplifting.”

Whether you call it luck, or timing, or an act of God, two important items escaped the fire.

The wedding dress, just by chance, had been left in a car the night before.

Hours later, concerned firefighters retrieved Matthew’s Army uniform from inside the gutted house.

It was in a closet, smelling of smoke, but amazingly, undamaged.

“It wasn’t dry cleaned,” Matthew said. “In the bag still, but it was clean and ready to go, and ash got all over it. It smells of smoke still but I can deal with it, I’ve had worse.”

Authorities believe discarded smoking materials may have caused the blaze.

That investigation continues, but these two families now joined as one, say that perhaps in this case, love really does conquer all.

“Just want to be together,” Coral said quietly. “Enjoy our time together and I think that’s the best way to do it right now.”

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