For Blaine and Diane Roy of Danville , Feb. 17 was supposed to be a normal day. Their daughter, Colby, was at work. Their two sons, Jacob and Blaine James (BJ), were at school. Blaine was at his job as a press operator at Weidmann Electrical Technology in St. Johnsbury, where he has worked for 24 years. Diane had taken the day off from her job at Dollar General in Lyndonville.
“It was Jacob’s senior night at basketball,” Diane says. “I went shopping with my best friend and bought gifts to give to Jacob that night. Every sports season they have a night that acknowledges all the seniors one-by-one as their season comes to an end if they don’t play another sport.”
Jacob’s game was at 7:30 p.m. The Roys arrived at the school early to get good seats and watch the junior varsity team play.
“Senior night is a big community night, and Danville is such a tight community,” Diane says. “It was a full house.” Danville celebrated as the varsity team beat Northfield.
“After the game was over,” Diane says, “we mingled with other parents and the students, as we have after every other game.”
Jacob and BJ rode home with one of Jacob’s friends. Jacob was a junior member of the Danville Volunteer Fire Department and had a scanner with him. When the first tone came in for the fire department, it was for the house belonging to Blaine’s parents, James and Freda Roy, who live across the road from Blaine and Diane.
Jacob called his parents on his cell phone: “There’s a fire at Grammy and Grandpa’s house. I’m going to go and make sure they are out and are OK.”
Blaine and Diane immediately left the school and headed toward James and Freda’s house. While Diane was driving, Blaine called his parents to make sure they were out of the house. His mother answered and told him they were fine and nothing was going on there. Blaine asked her to look out the window toward their house, and she told him she could see an orange glow.
By then, the second fire tone had sounded, and it was for Blaine and Diane’s house. It was around 9:40 p.m.
“Coming up over the top of the hill, we could see flames coming out the back of the house,” Blaine recalls. “We knew all the kids were out, but the animals were still in there.”
“We got there first,” BJ says. “Jacob tried to kick the door in.” They all knew the pets were still in the house. Jacob got into the house, but came right back out. “It was too smoky,” he says. “You couldn’t see anything.”
Blaine and Diane arrived. Blaine jumped out of the car and ran toward the house to save the pets, but Fire Chief Troy Cochran stopped him. “He grabbed me by the arm,” Blaine says, and told me ‘“They’re gone. There’s no sense in trying to go in. There isn’t any hope.”’
Colby and her fiancé, Rob, had been eating dinner at Rob’s parents’ house. Rob is a volunteer for the Peacham Fire Department, so when the call came in, he left, went to the firehouse and rode over with his crew. Colby, who was almost six months pregnant, also left and went to the fire.
The family watched in disbelief. They had lived in Danville since 1995, when Blaine and Diane were married. In 1998, they bought a section of land from Blaine’s parents and added a double-wide. They were thankful no one was in the house at the time of the fire, but were in despair over their beloved pets. They lost two cats and two dogs. The cats were named Simba and Kirby, both males. Simba was two years old and had been adopted from the Humane Society. Kirby was five years old. The dogs were Ryder, a male three-year-old Jack Russell Chihuahua mix, and Daisey, a female eight-month-old purebred Beagle.
The Roys left around 1:30 in the morning and went to Diane’s niece’s house. They believe five fire departments responded that night with about 42 firefighters, including seven junior volunteers from Danville High School who were all at the game and came to help.
“The Danville Fire Department stayed all night long,” Diane says. The fire flared up again at 1 a.m. and then again at 4. “We were back there at eight in the morning,” she says. “By 8:15 people were starting to show up and offer anything and everything.”
The Roys realized they would not be able to salvage the house. “Once everyone is safe,” Diane says, “you start thinking about all the personal effects that have been lost. In three and a half hours, we watched 20 years of our life just disappear.”
“One corner was burned really bad,” Blaine says, “and the first floor had gone down through to the basement. The firemen had to check for hot spots so they had to rip the ceiling down. We were in shock. We didn’t know what we were going to do.”
The insurance adjuster, Jeff Berwick, met with the Roys. “He found out that the fire was caused by a wire going up out of the back of the dryer that had gotten condensation in it,” Blaine says. “It had shorted out and it fed back up into the floor joists and when it got into the floor joists, it caught on fire right there.”
The Red Cross made plans for the family to stay at the Fairbanks Inn for four days. An anonymous donation paid for another night. Then Weidmann, Blaine’s employer, paid for the next 10 days.
“Weidmann did a lot for us,” Blaine says.
Life had suddenly become very different. The family was living in three rooms at the Fairbanks Inn. They could not cook their own meals. People gave them homemade meals, and some invited them into their homes for meals. Other people gave them gift certificates to local restaurants. They were still dazed from the fire, the loss of their pets and the loss of all their possessions.
“I always wanted to stay at a motel,” BJ reflects, “but not under those circumstances.”
More donations came in. David Towle, a family friend who grew up with Blaine, headed a committee to take contributions along with Diane’s sister, Betty Briggs. According to Diane, the donations overtook David’s house with people giving clothing and household items.
“Abel and Kitty Toll owned a house in Danville, and they asked us to look at it and said it was available for us to rent,” Diane says. “It was a very generous offer.” The family moved into the house and have been living there while their new home is being built.
About a week after the fire, Danny Swainbank, a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, met with the Roys at the Fairbanks Inn. He talked to them about the prospect of Habitat for Humanity helping them build a new house. They would have a mortgage, but no interest. Many of the supplies would be donated as well as people’s time.
“At that point,” Diane says, “I told him that I wasn’t sure we could go through the emotional roller coaster of being accepted at one level and then a different committee not approve us. They have committees and you go through different rankings of approval and have to meet certain criteria. I was afraid of being able to meet one criterion, but not meet another one – being on an excitement high and then have something go wrong. I almost said no.”
The Northeast Kingdom Chapter of Habit for Humanity had done small projects, such as adding ramps or porches or replacing windows, but had never taken on the job of building a complete house. The Roys’ tragedy presented an opportunity to do just that.
“They looked at the house, our financial abilities, our work history and the stability of it,” Diane says. “They checked a lot of things. They also looked at our land and what we had available. We still had the foundation plus the water and sewer.”
There was a lot of paperwork to complete. The Roys were accepted in June, and construction started on July 28. “The family has to put in 500 hours of sweat equity,” Blaine says, “doing whatever we possibly can.”
“I can make brownies or cookies to send up to the volunteers or work at the site,” Diane says. “We can even volunteer and help out at another Habitat site. If we go up in the evening during the week and Habitat is not there, we can clean up and that counts. We have to keep track of all of our time.” As of Sept. 2, they had over 80 hours of family volunteer time.
The number of people working on the house varies because it is an all-volunteer crew except for the site contractor. There were 21 people working one weekend, but on another weekend the number dropped to six. Rob has done ground work and worked on the roof. For Danville Fair, he drove his truck and pulled a float for Habitat. That is included in their hours of volunteer time.
“If everything goes well, my heart is set on being back there for Christmas,” Diane says. It was expected to take 40 weeks to build the house, but they are ahead of schedule.
The site contractor, Chris Fournier, told the Roys he wouldn’t make a promise he couldn’t keep, but would like to see them in there for Christmas. “It would be nice,” Blaine says, “because we moved in three days before Christmas 13 years ago in our other house.”
Life has gone on in other ways. Colby and Rob found an apartment, and their baby, Holden, was born. Holden joins three other grandchildren. Jacob graduated from high school, has a job, and is a regular volunteer with the Danville Fire Department. He would like to go to college and study fire safety. BJ is a freshman at Danville High School. In addition, the family acquired two new members. Dozer, a chocolate Lab and water spaniel mix, was given to Jacob as a graduation present from Bobby and Denise Briggs. Dozer is a fun-loving puppy and happy to be in the middle of whatever is going on. They also have a calico cat named Mittens.
Family time is spent with the children and grandchildren. The Roys also enjoy camping, hunting, the kids’ sports and attending Riverside Speedway in Groveton, N.H., where Diane sells 50/50 tickets, Blaine drives the wrecker, and BJ helps the infield cleanup crew.
The family learned first-hand about the goodness of people who are willing to share whatever they have to help those in need.
“We have an endless list of people who have given anything from utensils to clothes to furniture for the rental house,” Diane says. During the 15 days they were at the Fairbanks Inn, the community donated enough furniture, sheets, pillows, household utensils, and even a TV for them to be able to move into the rental house.
“It was phenomenal to see how many things we received,” Blaine says. “You hear about it on television, and God forbid it happens to you, but when it does, it is surprising how much people have done. As I told Diane, when the house is finished, I wish there was a way to put it into words in the paper so that when someone is reading it, they will stop and say, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe these people appreciate it that much.’ You can say thank you so many times, but it just seems like that gets old in a hurry. You want to put it in a way where it takes them off guard, and they will know how much we appreciate it.”
“We have done everything from smile with appreciation to cry because we appreciate everything so much,” Diane says. “There have been things that we never, never in a million years expected people to do. We know that there are giving people out there. The economy is tough and it is hard, but people really have big hearts. We got to see that a lot.”