A blanket of soot covered the driveway of 14 Old Hickory Lane this morning and the smell of burnt plastic and wood hung in the air just hours after crews worked through the night to completely extinguish a in this two-story ranch.
Believed to have started in the home’s attached carport, Branford Assistant Fire Chief and town Fire Marshal, Shaun Heffernan stated this afternoon that he was still working to determine a cause. At this time, the fire is believed to have been accidental in nature, he said.
Though not in the carport when the fire broke out, Heffernan said the renter did spend the day inside the carport cleaning. The attached structure where the fire began is completely burnt to the ground and the home sustained extensive water and smoke damage. The structure is uninhabitable.
At the time of the incident, renters Benjamin and Tiffany Vogt were home with their two male children, ages 6 and 3 and a half. They were able to escape the blaze unharmed but their two pet rabbits did not fare so well.
Staying down the street with family, Benjamin was pacing outside his home this morning, explaining to someone over the phone that he and his family had lost everything. When Branford Patch approached, the apparently in-shock man pointed out that he still didn’t even have shoes to wear.
Without renter’s insurance, the family will have to start over from scratch, he said. They also lost their Chevy pick-up truck, which was parked in the driveway next to the house. His wife noted that she planned to speak with the for assistance, especially for her 6-year-old who just started school here in Branford.
Benjamin explained that he and his family were up later than usual because the children would not fall asleep. It was about 10:30 p.m., he stated, when the family who was in the back of the house, heard a loud bang. “All I saw was orange outside the window and we grabbed the kids and ran out the back door.”
When the family was a safe distance from the house, Benjamin said he went back inside to attempt to squelch the fire with an extinguisher. Unsuccessful, Benjamin retreated and the fire department was arriving after a call from a neighbor was placed. They had the fire under control by 11:26 p.m. but stayed at the home until 4 a.m. ensuring the fire was completely out.
“I’m just glad we didn’t go to sleep,” said Benjamin.
Residents of the home from three months, the Vogt family rented the one-family structure from Diane Crouse whose father bought the place in 2003 for her family.
This morning from Arkansas, where she now lives with her 10-year-old child, Crouse said she was in shock that her home was gone. “I feel bad,” she said, “and I’m glad the kids got out OK.”
A resident of Branford for eight years, Crouse moved to town from California for work and began to set-up a life for herself and her four children, three of which are in college now. “They all went to middle school and high school here,” she said. “This was our family home.”
Last year, Crouse was offered a full-time job with Walmart at their headquarters in Arkansas in the Internet Technology Department. Needing stability for her family and knowing the mounting student loan debt she was acquiring from her children, Crouse said she had to take the job – Crouse has one child in pre-med and the other in pre-law. Though happy with her career, Crouse said she had intentions of keeping the house here in Branford as two of her children are in school in the Northeast.
A single parent, Crouse said she was hoping to keep the home in the family for her children. Explaining how tight finances have been for her, Crouse said of the home, which is a complete loss, “It was the only asset we had.”
Once insurance is settled, Crouse said she hopes to re-build the existing structure for her family.
Living now with family, the former renters, the Vogt family, will begin the process of relocation and building their lives back together. Today is Tiffany’s birthday and also her scheduled test to become a certified phlebotomist; Benjamin said today was the first day of a new job as independent contractor for his own company Benjamin Builders LLC.
Branford Patch will provide information regarding donations for the families as it becomes available.