Fire victims set to return to renovated home

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Town Hall receptionist Verna Campbell holds up an old photo of her family’s home on Maple Avenue that was damaged in a January fire. Most of her old photographs were lost in the blaze.

More than 10 months after a fire ripped through their Riverhead house, destroying their belongings and damaging property that had been in their family since the 1930s, Town Hall receptionist Verna Campbell and her daughter Bonnie-Sue Luce are getting ready to return home.

Ms. Campbell, who has been living in a mobile home on the property while the house has been repaired, expects to move into her newly refurbished home in the next few weeks thanks to money from her insurance company and work by contractors.

“They got all the painting done and they’re now putting in the doors,” Ms. Campbell said. “I saw them putting in baseboard heating in my bedroom.”

Both she and her daughter “lost everything” when a fire broke out in their kitchen on Jan. 7. Ms. Campbell, 79, said she had turned on the stove about 5:45 a.m. to make some tea when some boxes stored near the stove tumbled onto the stove and caught fire.

The fire quickly spread through the Maple Avenue house, which is more than 100 years old. Ms. Campbell and Ms. Luce were able to escape with their dog unharmed, but the family’s pet cats died in the fire, along with countless family heirlooms.

Ms. Campbell said it was “heartbreaking” to lose her family photos in the blaze.

“I lost so many pictures,” she said. “I lost a picture of my daughter from when she was just a wee little baby in a sterling silver frame.”

Still, Ms. Campbell said she doesn’t think much about those photos because she is thankful both she and her daughter made it out safely.

“I hate to even really think about what we’ve lost, it’s just things,” she said. “We didn’t lose our lives. We’re here, we’re here to stay.”

The insurance money has allowed the two women to refurnish their home and compensated them for their losses, Ms. Campbell said. The house now has solid oak flooring and will have all new furniture and appliances to replace the ones damaged in the fire.

Ms. Campbell said it was her faith in God that helped her while her house was being repaired.

“If I didn’t [have faith] I’d just be a mess,” she said. “God gives me the strength to sing, to sing for the Lord. When I sing for the Lord, it just lifts me right up.”

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Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the fire at Verna Campbell’s house occurred on Jan. 10, 2012. The fire occurred on Jan. 7 of that year.