NEWMARKET — Elizabeth Hutchinson and her two teenage daughters are starting over after a fire ripped through their apartment last week.
“I don’t even know where I go from here,” the 38-year-old single mother said Wednesday as she and other families affected by the fire on April 5 begin picking up the pieces and planning their next steps.
The four-alarm fire at Great Hill Terrace damaged four apartments and displaced 11 children and six adults, according to Ernie Clark, executive director of the Newmarket Housing Authority, which owns the subsidized apartment complex at 2 Gordon Ave.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Hutchinson said she was told by the state fire marshal’s office that a witness saw a pile of leaves on fire near a gas grill in her backyard and that the fire heated up the propane tank, melted a valve on the tank and then the hose attached to the grill.
Hutchinson and her 13-year-old daughter, Brianna, were inside their apartment at the time of the fire.
“All of a sudden we heard this loud boom. It shook my building. I could feel it,” Hutchinson said.
She yelled to her daughter, who was in her upstairs bedroom, and moments later two people showed up inside her apartment to help them escape.
“We made it out with just the clothes on our back. It was probably the scariest thing and closest death experience I’ve ever had,” said Hutchinson, who’s still wearing the flip-flops she wore as she fled.
Hutchinson said both of her daughters have autism and that her 14-year-old daughter, Nevaeh, wasn’t home at the time. Nevaeh’s pet hamster, Angel, which is considered a service animal, was rescued by firefighters.
Hutchinson and her daughters are now staying with her parents until they can get back on their feet.
“The goal right now is to quickly find housing. My fear and worry is safe housing for my girls,” Hutchinson said.
A GoFundMe online fundraiser was set up for the family at gofundme.com/newhomeforLiz.
Other fundraisers are also being established to help those affected.
Many people in the community have stepped up to offer what they can.
In a post on the Facebook page of Newmarket Community Church, Pastor Patty Marsden highlighted the ways in which the community has pulled together to help out. She said she spoke with a middle school student who had earned $100 for getting good grades on her report card and who then donated it to the impacted families.
A couple who had open condo space for two weeks offered it to another family. Someone else had put a deposit on a new apartment, but offered to give up the space to another family.
Marsden spoke of others who have also shown generosity.
“People have come together to find solutions, to think creatively and figure out a path forward. Nobody has been left behind, every person is cared for and loved, no matter what,” she wrote.