WEST WARWICK — Fire crews in West Warwick had a busy Christmas, responding within the span of just 10 hours to two house fires, one of which left a family of four with nothing.
Firefighters were dispatched just before 1 p.m. Wednesday to a structure fire at 95 Wakefield Street, West Warwick Fire Chief Jeffrey Varone said Thursday. Crews arrived to find heavy smoke billowing from the home, Varone added, and they fought the flames for around 45 minutes before the fire was under control.
“The guys did a great job containing it to the structure of origin,” Varone added of firefighters’ efforts.
Still, the single-family home suffered substantial damage, Varone said, calling it a total loss.
But thanks to the community’s generosity, the family that had been renting the house isn’t alone in recovering from the tragedy.
“She called me right away and said, ‘my house is on fire, I need help,” Debra Roffo recalled her conversation Wednesday with Kerrie Marchetti, who had been living at the house with her husband, teenage son and two-year-old daughter. “It’s devastating.”
Roffo is the founder of Angel in Action, a nonprofit dedicated to practicing random acts of kindness. She also owns Angel’s Closet, a charitable clothing store in West Warwick that sells new and gently used designer clothing at discounted prices.
“I told her to come to the closet and to get whatever they need,” Roffo said. “They didn’t even have shoes on their feet.”
Community members have been eager to help the family, who made it out of the house safely but lost just about everything they owned. While many have offered clothing, however, Roffo said the best way to help the family is to donate money or gift cards.
“Every time there’s a fire, everybody wants to donate clothes, because they think they’ll need them right away,” she said. “When they’re at a hotel, though, they can’t take all that with them.”
Right now, the family needs to secure a new place to live. Monetary donations will go a long way in helping them to afford a new home, Roffo said, and gift cards will allow them to purchase clothing and other necessities once they have a place to store them.
“You want to buy your own stuff,” she added.
Having lost her own home to a fire when she was a child, Roffo has made it a top priority to help fire victims get back on their feet after tragedy strikes.
“When I first started this organization, I had said that I wanted to keep some stuff on hand for fire victims,” she said. “And everything that we do for fire victims, we do it for free.”
Community members have also stepped in to organize a fundraiser, scheduled for Jan. 5 at the Olde Theater Diner in Coventry. The American Red Cross is assisting the family, as well.
Fire crews remained on the scene of the Wakefield Street fire into the night Wednesday, Varone said, adding that they returned the following morning to continue their investigation. One firefighter was transported to Kent County Hospital with a minor shoulder injury. He was treated and later released.
A second fire later on Christmas day brought firefighters to the home at 95 Hamilton Street.
Crews responded to that incident at around 9:30 p.m. An electrical short is believed to have caused that fire, which Varone said firefighters were able to control in 10 or 15 minutes.
“That one wasn’t as big [as the earlier fire],” Varone said, adding that due to violations identified by responding firefighters the family living at the house was asked to stay somewhere else.
Though both Christmas day fires remain under investigation, Varone noted that he tends to see an uptick in fire incidents during the winter months.
“It does seem that when it gets cold we get an increase in fire incidences,” Varone said. “It’s always tragic when these kinds of things happen on the holidays.”
Those interested in donating to the victims of the Wakefield Street fire can do so online at www.paypal.me/AngelinActionRI or by sending gift cards or checks to Angel in Action, 1542 Main St., Suite 6, West Warwick. The purpose for the donation should be included in the memo line.
A fundraiser for the family will be held from 1 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 5 at the Olde Theater Diner. The cost it $15 per ticket, and all proceeds will go to the family. Call (401)559-1971 or (401)954-7719.