Fire destroys Windham family’s mobile home; search is on for a new one

A firefighter works to knock down the fire at the Van Alstyne home on Popple Dungeon Road on Saturday, Feb. 5. All photos by Billie Jean Clay.

By Cynthia Prairie
©2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A 21-year-old Windham woman and her 1-year-old daughter lost their home to an electrical fire on Saturday, Feb. 5. Now the woman’s mother, who owns the Windham property but lives nearby, is hoping to help her daughter and granddaughter establish a new home in the same spot.

In an interview on Thursday, Billie Jean Clay said that since the fire, daughter Erika Van Alstyne and her granddaughter,  Harper, who just celebrated her first birthday and first Christmas, have been living with her in her nearby home also in Windham.

Clay recalled the day of the fire, saying that around 4 a.m. that Saturday, Van Alstyne called to tell her that a fire had sparked in the spare bedroom. Windham firefighters responded and, according to Clay, they believed the freezer plug was partially out of the socket, causing a spark that lit a nearby bucket of wrapping paper. That fire was extinguished by the time firefighters arrived.

Jared Smith of Londonderry helps to clean up the site of the destruction.

Windham Fire Chief Jon Gordon said firefighters used a thermal imager to check for hot spots but found none.

But six hours later, a fire popped up and, according to Clay, traveled under the floor, up the wall and into a breaker box.

Van Alstyne, said Clay, grabbed Harper while her mother-in-law grabbed two of their four pets — their two dogs — and ran out the door.  They could not find Van Alstyne’s two cats, however, because apparently Willy and Wally had gone into hiding.

As Clay and her family stood outside in the Saturday morning cold watching the mobile home burn, Wally walked out of the front door as black smoke rolled out around him. “His poor whiskers were melted and his hair was singed and he had burns on his feet,” said Clay.  Still, Willy was nowhere to be found until the next day.

The family returned to the house the next afternoon and Willy’s mews could be heard coming from a portion of the home that had been untouched by the fire. Willy “was soaking wet and froze,” said Clay, and immediately wanted to be snuggled.  The cats were taken to the veterinarian and Willy was diagnosed with pneumonia, for which he is being treated. And Wally’s burns are being cared for as well.

Windham firefighters returned to the scene, said Gordon, and fire companies from Londonderry, South Londonderry, Weston, Winhall, Jamaica and Chester responded to assist as did the Londonderry Ambulance.

Clay, who had raised Erika in the home, said family treasures such as photos, were destroyed. She also said Harper lost all the gifts from her birthday and Christmas.

Clay said at the fire marshal later said it had been smoldering in wires in the floor.

The family is grateful for all the help they received, including clothes from the Chester-Andover Family Center and site work provided by Jared Smith of Londonderry, as well as help from others who have reached out to them. A friend set up a Go-Fund-Me page to pay to clean up the area and pay for a dumpster to ready it for another trailer.

Now, says Clay, the family is looking for a used mobile home to replace the one they lost.

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Filed Under: Latest NewsWindham

About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 40 years. Cynthia has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland, and has won numerous state awards for her reporting. As an editor, she has overseen her staffs to win many awards for indepth coverage. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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