Work now under way at Town Hall receptionist’s fire-damaged house

03/29/2012 2:00 PM |

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Asbestos remediation workers began work at Town Hall receptionist Verna Campbell's house Thursday.

Nearly three months after her Maple Avenue house was devastated by fire, work has now begun on getting Riverhead resident and longtime Town Hall receptionist Verna Campbell’s life back to normal.

Contractors with New York Insulation, based out of Masbeth, started work on Ms. Campbell’s damaged home this week, said a field supervisor with the company, Carl Parisi. The private contractors are currently testing the air quality and cleaning out the home, which Mr. Parisi said has become contaminated by soot, asbestos, and mold in the months since the fire.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Verna Campbell and her daughter Bonnie-Sue Luce outside their fire-damaged home on Maple Avenue in January.

“It became a big petri dish,” he said of the house, adding that the contents inside were too contaminated to save.

Ms. Cambell’s house, where she lived with her daughter, caught fire Jan. 7 after boxes fell onto a heated stove where she was preparing tea. Ms. Campbell and her daughter, Bonnie-Sue Luce, escaped through the house’s second floor exterior stairway with their dog, but three cats died in the blaze.

Following the fire, donations from across the community and from her colleagues at Town Hall poured in to help Ms. Campbell, who turned 79-years-old this past week. She has since lived in a mobile home set up on her property until repairs to her house are finished.

Contractors will spend the next four weeks disposing of the burned house’s interior and removing asbestos-contaminated plaster from the walls of the more than 100-year-old home. Reconstruction will then start on the house and last for approximately five months, Ms. Campbell said.

“It’s a long process, but I’m thankful to God that I’m here and that things are moving forward,” she said Thursday while working the switchboard at Town Hall.

She said it has been difficult to realize that many of her precious family heirlooms, like a bureau her father made and an antique china cabinet, were likely lost in the fire.

“I’ve been a collector of some sort,” she said. “There will be a lot of things that will be thrown out. That’s what I have to face.”

Yet despite losing her possessions, Ms. Campbell said she is glad to be safe and is looking forward to buying new appliances and furniture through her insurance money.

“Out of tragedy can come triumph,” she said cheerfully. “I’m ready to move on.”

psquire@timesreview.com