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02/19/15 8:00am
02/19/2015 8:00 AM
From left, Tracey Foutaine and TK. Mr. Fountaine credits his faith, extended family, friends and even the help of strangers for helping his family get back on its feet. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Tracey Foutaine and his wife, Lyn, in front of their home. Mr. Fountaine credits his faith, extended family, friends and even the help of strangers for helping his family get back on its feet. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Northampton resident Tracey Fountaine can remember seeing an owl perched on the roof of his house as he arrived home from work one day last June.

A few hours later, the owl was still there.

It was a strange sight, he recalls. Normally owls don’t get that close to homes, or stay around long.

That was all before the aging electrical outlet sparked in the basement near the clothes dryer, before the fire leapt up the wall, before Mr. Fountaine was covered in a flaming blanket while desperately battling the blaze. That was also before he spent days in a hospital recovering from burns while his family dealt with what remained of the family home.

But even when the house — the place his wife, Lyn, had called home since childhood — did catch fire and firefighters tried to contain the blaze, the owl didn’t fly away. It stayed there, hopping from one side of the roof to the other, consumed in smoke.

Only after the fire was out and everyone was OK did the owl leave its perch, Mr. Fountaine said.

He believes that owl was like a guardian, watching over his family and keeping them safe. Nine months after the devastating fire, small owl trinkets litter the trailer the Fountaine family is living in as their home is rebuilt bigger and stronger.

“The owl has become like a family symbol,” Mr. Fountaine said. “I know when we go back home, it will come back.”

In many ways, Mr. Fountaine’s story mirrors the lives of other residents in the North Fork area who have lost their homes and possessions — and more — to fire in the past few years. There’s the initial devastation, the grueling recovery and the importance of support from family and friends.

The News-Review sat down with four area residents who were the victims of house fires in recent years to learn more about that recovery process.

Click on the tabs below to read their stories.

12/04/14 9:03pm
12/04/2014 9:03 PM
The recipients of the 2014 Riverhead Chamber of Commerce awards. (Credit: Joseph Pinciaro)

The recipients of the 2014 Riverhead Chamber of Commerce awards. (Credit: Joseph Pinciaro)

The Riverhead Chamber of Commerce held its annual award dinner Thursday evening at the East Wind in Wading River.

Read what each of the recipients had to say by clicking on the page links below. 

03/23/13 6:21pm
03/23/2013 6:21 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Verna Campbell holds a photo of her at age 3 with her sisters, Betty, Beverly and Shirley, on the front porch of their home.

It has been a long 14 months and a tedious process for Verna Campbell to restore her fire-ravaged ancestral home on Maple Avenue in downtown Riverhead.

But as she prepares to spend her first night sleeping in her new bedroom Tuesday, on the eve of her 80th birthday, she said wistfully, “this is a new lease on life for me.”

The more than 100-year-old home, which has been in her family since the 1930’s, was destroyed along with all her possessions in January 2012. Her daughter, Bonnie-Sue Luce, lost all her belongings as well in her upstairs apartment. She also lost four cats in the fire.

The home now has shiny new hardwood floors and walls painted in soft pastels of blue, ivory and pale yellow. And as Ms. Campbell walked from room to room she pointed out where the furnishings, pictures and rugs came from.

“The kitchen table came from Hildreth’s,” she said. “I fell in love with the shape of it.”

[Previous Coverage: Fire victims set to return to renovated home]

The blinds and shutters were from Lowe’s, as were the pictures and dining room area rug. The living room couches and chairs from J.C. Penney’s and pillows on the couch from Martha Stewart.

A dining room closet was turned into an arch-shaped bookshelf to feature some family photos, including one lost in the fire. Her sister Shirley Chase, who lives in Virginia, provided a replacement photo. The photo shows Ms. Campbell at age 3 with her three sisters — Beverly, Betty and Shirley on their front porch.

Ms. Campbell has worked as a receptionist at Town Hall for 36 years. When asked if she plans on retiring anytime soon, her response was, “I don’t really want to retire. I like the routine and I like the people. What am I going to do? Stay home and clean all day?

“My strong faith in God kept me going. I thank him everyday for keeping me and my daughter safe.”

Ms. Campbell has been living in a leased mobile home on the property while contractors worked on the home.

“I’ve grown accustomed to the mobile home — its face and shape,” she said. “This is all so overwhelming. I feel like I should have a maid. I’ve got so much to do to pack up. I have to work like a beaver.”

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BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Verna Campbell in her new bedroom with a ‘pie-crust’ mirror from Hildreth’s Department store in Southampton. She will be sleeping there Tuesday night on the eve of her 80th birthday.

10/23/12 8:00am
10/23/2012 8:00 AM

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.