HIGHGATE: An elderly couple is lucky to be alive Monday after a fire gutted the home they built by hand.
Raymond Many and his wife, Jacqueline, were home early Monday morning when Raymond began to smell smoke. Inquiring with his wife what food might be burning, he soon realized their home was on fire.
“I looked up and there was black smoke,” Many said as he began searching through the possessions firefighters had pulled from the burning building.
Both Raymond and Jacqueline were able to escape the blaze unharmed, which is believed to have started in the attic, according to Highgate Fire Chief, Joe Depatie. The fire is under investigation but is not considered to be suspicious.
“We called in the investigators because of a report of squirrels,” Depatie said. That report came from Raymond Many, who said the fire seemed to have started in the attic, and also stated there was nothing in the attic that should have been able to start the fire.
The fire was an emotionally devastating experience for the Many families, but according to Raymond’s sister, Joan Luce, the community already began to rally to help them.
“We have friends and family coming out of the woodwork,” Luce said as she cleaned out a china cabinet that firefighters had just pulled from the rubble, “We’re trying to save the most important family heirlooms.” That china belonged to her mother who had died just shy of the age of 100, two years ago.
There was still smoke coming from the structure, while several family heirlooms had been pulled from the home and piled up on the front lawn.
“It’s a big loss,” Luce said, “My brother built this house with his bare hands many, many years ago. It’s just devastating. There are just no other words for it.”
The Many’s cat was missing for most of the morning, with nobody knowing if it was inside, but soon after noon time Raymond’s granddaughter found the cat safe, hiding outside.”
“I can’t say enough for any of these departments,” Luce said of the firefighters braving the 80 degree temperatures and lack of water to extinguish the fire. “They are all right on top of it doing the best they can, and it’s all quite wonderful.”
The Manys and their tenants were both displaced by the fire. The tenants were being assisted by the American Red Cross in finding temporary shelter.
Depatie said the lack of water that any rural fire attack sees hampered their efforts dramatically, “When we got here there was fire coming out of the roof on the right side.”
Depatie said the fire attack ran short on water a few minutes later, allowing the fire to spread to the remainder of the building, causing the roof to eventually collapse.
Dealing with water supply issues is the nature of rural firefighting, according to Depatie, whose town relies almost entirely on tankers and not fire hydrants for fire suppression efforts.
More than 30 firefighters responding from Highgate, Swanton, St. Albans Town and Sheldon worked to put the remainder of the fire out and save the two bay garage that was attached on a corner of the home. No injuries were reported in the course of the fire, according to Depatie.