Fire Destroys Four-Generation SoRo Farmhouse

Front Page / Feb. 17, 2011 12:19pm EST

By Pam Levasseur

On Monday, Feb. 14, a South Windsor Street home in South Royalton was destroyed by fire. The blaze, which started around 1 p.m., left the house and barn a total loss and displaced the five occupants—Mary Donahue and her daughter and son-in-law, Julie and Tom McKenney, and their two children, Sarah and Connor.

Donahue and her three-year-old grandson, Connor, were the only two at home at the time and escaped the blaze unharmed, thanks to the quick thinking of an unknown woman, who appeared outside the house as flames spread from a hay filled barn to the nearby home.

Donahue had noticed that the electricity to the house was irregular and she called Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS) to report the problem. CVPS directed her to check the fuse box. Donahue then noticed a woman outside of the house. The woman, whose name is still unknown, called 911 on her cell phone and approached the house to alert the family of the fire. Donahue grabbed her grandson and fled the house.

While Monday’s warm weather was a welcome relief from the freezing cold as it melted some ice and snow, it may have been a contributor to the start of the vicious fire. According to Tom McKenney, it is believed that the fire may have started from water dripping down onto an electrical panel, causing sparks inside the barn where hay was stored.

“The fire is not considered suspicious,” said McKenney, who was at work in Sunapee, N.H. when he received a call about the fire early Monday afternoon. Julie McKenney was called while she was at work in Lebanon.

Seemingly still in shock, Tom McKenney repeatedly said, “No one was hurt. The important thing is no one was hurt.”

Only a small part of the structure is still standing, charred, still smoking, and appears unsafe to even stand nearby. It is unlikely that any of the family’s possessions will be salvaged. What did not burn was damaged by smoke and water.

The family expressed their thankfulness for the help of the woman whose name they do not know, and their gratitude that no one was hurt. Their eyes show devastation from the loss of the longtime family home, but no one speaks of the loss of their possessions.

The house, believed to have been built in the early 1900s, has been lived in by four generations of Julie McKenney’s family. The Valley News noted that, McKenney’s brother, John Leighton, one of the South Royalton firefighters, “recognized the address of the fire as the farmhouse where his late grandfather Charlie had raised cattle, horses, chickens and sheep.” Siblings David and Kelly Leighton now own the house, which was insured.

According to Tom McKenney, the family is staying in a hotel and will start searching for a place to live. As for the house, McKenney said, as he stared over the still smoldering debris, “the next step will be to clean this up.”

The South Royalton Fire Department was assisted by firefighters from Tunbridge, Sharon, Hartford, Bethel, Barnard and East Barnard.


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