TOWNSEND — The last of the estimated 48 people displaced by the four-alarm fire on Feb. 4 that swept through a 24-unit apartment building on Fitchburg Road have found temporary housing, thanks in large part to support from the community.
Donations poured in almost immediately to The New Hall at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, which serves as a temporary shelter and command center for the Townsend Emergency Management Agency and Townsend Ecumenical Outreach, as well as volunteers from the American Red Cross.
“We are now trying to relocate 21 families to permanent housing around the area,” said Kym Craven, operations manager at the center.
“The cost of moving a family into an apartment is at least $10,000,” she said. “Multiply that times 21 and you can see how much is needed” to help all those affected by the blaze, which destroyed the 18,000-square-foot building at 48 Fitchburg Road.
The building is part of a five-building complex called Pine Ridge Estates.
“We are grateful for all the donations and many are still coming in. Most of those items went quickly to the families and individuals. But what we would love to see more money,” Craven said. “I am hoping that every town business can give a little.”
She hopes that other companies will follow the lead of Sterilite Corp., which gave $25,000, and other donors who have given $1,000 each.
“We have enough to keep us going for the next few days,” she said of the money, gift cards, food, toys and clothing that town residents have dropped off. “But this is a marathon and we need permanent solutions.”
A QGiv account, which returns 100 percent of donations to be given to the victims, has been set up by the United Way. A link to that funding site can be found on Townsend Police Department’s Facebook page.
The fire, which authorities believe started in a first-floor bathroom, was reported to Townsend Fire Department shortly before 8 p.m. and ultimately tore through the roof. It was considered a complete loss by investigators and insurance adjusters.
In an interview on Tuesday, Fire Chief Mark Boynton said that the cause of the blaze is still under investigation by the town fire department, state fire marshals and a private investigator hired by the building owner’s insurance company.
As many as 100 firefighters from more than a dozen surrounding departments battled the inferno for more than five hours.
Chief Boynton called the blaze “the largest by far since I’ve been here … five years.”
On the morning of Feb. 7, some residents were seen carrying what little salvageable belongings they could locate among the water-logged, soot-covered rubble.
Building Inspector Richard Hanks condemned the structure on Feb. 7. He posted signs on all sides of the building.
“I only condemn it and indicate that it is unsafe for anyone to enter,” he said. “I am not the one to determine what will be done with it. That is a matter of economics for the property owner to consider.”
Pine Ridge Investors LLC, which owns 106 of the 120 total units — including all 24 of the destroyed building — in the 20-acre development, association President Ziad Ramadan said he will likely tear the building down and rebuild.
“My heart is broken for the families,” he said. “Many of them have been here for years and I know them well. They are hard-working people and only two of them had renter’s insurance. The most important thing is that no one was hurt.”
Ramadan added that the entire alarm system had just been upgraded to wireless detectors and alarms in accordance with new building codes.
One resident, Felicia Lorette, who does have renter’s insurance, was rummaging through the debris last week, unearthing some cash and very little else worth taking.
“I have not told my kids about it yet,” said Lorette, who was not at home during the blaze and has found refuge at her grandparents’ home in Fitchburg. “But the (Townsend Ecumenical Outreach) has been awesome,” she lauded. They put us up right away and helped out with basic needs.”
The TEO and Townsend Emergency Management Agency have an estimated 50 volunteers in and out of the command center, broken into several teams: a phone bank team, housing team, food team, clothing team and transportation team, which has since been dissolved after the last of the residents’ car keys were located. No cars were damaged in the fire and all personal vehicles were safely removed.
“Right now we are trying to find one-, two- and three-bedroom units in the area to get people housed permanently,” said Craven. “But not just the deposit and first rents, they will need basic furnishings and household items. One generous donor offered to give and transport the entire contents of his late mother’s estate. But it’s like putting together a puzzle, trying to match donations to specific needs of residents and dimensions of their new space.”
“The support has been constant,” she said, “and is showing them (the victims) that they are all part of the Townsend family.”