PORTSMOUTH — One person offered a cottage to stay in, rent-free. Another volunteered the use of a car.
Within hours after a fire completely leveled a two-story home in Common Fence Point Saturday, donations started pouring in for the displaced Sweeney family.
“They lost their car — everything. They don’t even have a cell phone or a driver’s license,” Deputy Fire Chief Michael O’Brien said Monday.
Kevin Sweeney, wife Aime Barrette Sweeney and their two young children were able to escape the fire at their 2 Summit Road home Saturday, but nearly everything they owned went up in flames. They also presumably lost a pet dog and cat, which could not be found by firefighters.
The community has responded, however, with an outpouring of support through a grassroots effort. While the Fire Department is not directly involved in any fund-raising efforts, Fire Chief Michael Cranson designated the fire station as a drop-off point for donations.
“There’s been a steady flow. Every couple of minutes people are coming in with gift cards, blankets, cash or checks,” said Deputy O’Brien, adding that people are also donating non-perishable food items.
At the same time, the fire station doesn’t want to serve as a dumping ground for used or other items that the family may not need, he said. Money and gift cards are most welcome, he said.
“It’s difficult to gauge what size clothes they wear,” said the deputy chief.
Jen Tingley, one of the local residents involved in the fund-raising, agreed.
“Right now we talked about the immediate need being gifts cards in case they need shoes or socks — things like that,” she said.
Once the family is set up in a rental home, they’ll also need items such as dish soap and towels, she said.
The family has also received offers of some higher-ticket items.
“We’ve even had an offer for a cottage for them to stay in, rent-free. Another offered the use of a car,” said Deputy O’Brien, who lauded those residents organizing the fund-raising efforts. “There are some really nice people behind the scenes.”
For more information or to make an online donation, click here. You can also call the Fire Department (683-1200) with questions.
Fire raged quickly
The Sweeneys were at home with their two young children when they saw flames around 3:30 p.m. The Fire Department received multiple 911 calls and witnesses said the fire spread quickly.
Chief Cranson said the location of the house on top of a hill, coupled with the windy conditions at the time, made for a dangerous situation.
“We believe that contributed greatly to the rapid spread of the fire,” he said.
Other homes in the immediate proximity were also in danger, said Deputy O’Brien.
“What made the fire worse was the fact that the wind was gusting and the wind direction pushed the fire toward the next house up the street. When the first guys arrived, the fire was rolling over onto the second house, which was pretty close to igniting,” he said, adding that by the time firefighters arrived on the scene, the home was fully engulfed in flames.
“It’s a long ride to Common Fence Point. It took about nine minutes to get there,” said Deputy O’Brien. “It’s amazing how fast the fire developed.”
Firefighters attacked the flames from all sides, but they could not save the home.
At around 4 p.m., a major section of the second floor of the home collapsed in the back, close to where firefighters were attacking with multiple hoses. No firefighters were injured, however.
A large crowd gathered on surrounding streets in the densely packed neighborhood as smoke could be seen for miles around.
The Rhode Island Fire Marshal’s office is investigating the cause of the fire, which appears to have started at the back of home and was accidental in nature.
Firefighters were on the scene late into the night. “I left the scene at 10:30 p.m.,” said Deputy O’Brien, noting that another engine left closer to midnight. Heavy equipment from Aquidneck Construction was brought in to assist extinguishing hot spots.
Mutual aid was provided by Bristol, Tiverton and Middletown, with Naval Station Newport Fire Department covering the rest of Portsmouth during the fire. A canteen truck responded from Providence to support operations.
“We had help from several communities,” said Chief Cranson. “It was certainly a team effort, and I’m thankful for it.”
With additional reporting by Scott Pickering.