Storms blamed in death of East Texas foster dad

By Layron Livingston - bio | email

VAN ZANDT COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - Max Heinen died saving his nine foster children from their burning home.

The fire happened between around 3 a.m., Saturday morning on VZ County Road 2315.

Van Zandt County Sheriff Pat Burnett called Heinen a hero.  Burnett said Heinen went back inside the home, to perhaps save it from burning, but the fire became too intense.

Heinen lived in the home with all nine children and his wife, Nancy, who was out of town when the fire broke out.

We're told all of the children--ages six to 14--were taken to the Azleway children's facility.

"We believe things happen for a reason but, right now, I couldn't give you a reason for this," said Nancy Heinen.  "I have no idea.

Heinen and her husband have been foster parents for more than a decade.

She spoke with us just hours after getting the disturbing news.

The fire is still under investigation, but Nancy said the kids remember hearing last night's heavy winds.  The children also said there was a lot of lightning in the area.

"There was an explosion, and [Max] got them all out, and then he went back in," she said.  "I don't know why."

Suzanne Tomlin is a family friend and counsels the Heinens' foster children.  She said according to the children, the flames got very intense, very quickly.

"Even looking at it, it doesn't seem real," said Lyn Hagar, Nancy and Lyn's daughter.  "The phone call didn't seem real, getting to the church didn't seem real, and looking at [the home] doesn't seem real."

Max was born in Germany.  He met his wife, Nancy working for American Airlines, before retiring to East Texas in the early 1980's.  In addition to adopting, they have been foster parents to many other children.

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