Rebuilding After Fire, One Family Is Very Grateful For Countless Acts Of Kindness
When a fire a few months ago ripped through the barn below them and quickly extended into their apartment, three members of the Hanlon family escaped without injury.
With help from their caretaker, the animals inside the barn — 11 horses, along with ducks, chickens, one dog, and one cat — were all safely released. Within an hour during the early morning hours of July 11, however, the circa 1965 building at 34 Meadowbrook Road was destroyed.
In addition to the building, a camper parked near the barn suffered some damage, and two vehicles were also destroyed. The total estimated loss, Deputy Fire Marshal Steve Murphy said the afternoon after the fire, was approximately $300,000.
Evelyn Hanlon and her family have spent the past few months rebuilding their lives after losing nearly everything in that fire. The clothes — pajamas, in Ms Hanlon’s case — each was wearing that morning were among the few things that survived the inferno. They are so grateful, they say, for the kindnesses of strangers that have helped them start anew.
“The donations,” Ms Hanlon said, “oh my God. There was more stuff than you could ever dream of.
“All of the people that came, it was just amazing,” she added. “We could never thank them enough. You would never think that there was that many people that would be that way.”
One woman, they said, “from the horse community,” made two trips with large loads of helpful items for a boarding business.
“She brought saddles and other equipment,” Ms Hanlon said. Others showed up with hay, or provided water.
“Everybody was so forthcoming with supplies,” Ms Martinez said.
Evelyn Hanlon had been leasing the barn and its apartment at 34 Meadowbrook Road for 14 years, she said, operating Long Meadow Horse Farm. The 30 stalls available within the 5,000-square-foot barn were leased by area and regional horse owners, who counted on the family to feed, turn out, and provide water and general care for their animals.
Within hours of the fire, Newtown residents were on Facebook, organizing collections and donations. A gofundme campaign was also launched within hours by Deana Rohan, quickly raising more than $6,500 for the displaced family.
Many people left comments, offering words of comfort to Ms Hanlon and her family. A few people offered temporary shelter, and many mentioned that they were neighbors or current or former boarders.
One woman noted that her barn has burned in January, and that two ponies and two cats were killed.
“I am still recovering,” Patti Driscoll commented. “Gofundme helped me rebuild.”
Sean Murray noted “Helping to rebuild lives is the right thing to do, if even a small amount.”
Rebuilding is exactly what the Hanlon family has been doing since July. Clothing, furniture, gift cards, appliances, and other items large and small flooded in to help Ms Hanlon and her family, she and one of her daughters said recently.
Sitting in an office within a barn on Hundred Acres Road now being rented by Ms Hanlon, she and daughter Shelly Martinez talked on about the kindness that continues to envelop their family.
The biggest thing that has happened in recent months is the relocation from Meadowbrook Road to Hundred Acres Road, where the family found a new home for themselves and the animals in their care.
“We had to find a barn,” Ms Hanlon said. “That was the priority. We always wanted to keep everyone together.”
Ms Martinez found the barn her family is now renting, she said, while she was driving one day and saw a sign announcing the barn’s availability. With the barn came a house, she learned, which meant her mother and sister, Susan Seavey, would have more living space if the location worked out for the family.
“We met with the owner and told him Mommy and Suzy were displaced, and he did everything he could to make this work,” Ms Martinez said.
For the second half of July and all of August, Ms Hanlon and Ms Seavey lived in an RV parked at the Meadowbrook Road location. The RV had been loaned to them, and it allowed them to stay at that location and continue caring for the horses still being boarded there.
Within 24 hours of the fire, Ms Seavey, Ms Martinez, family, and friends began constructing run-throughs in the fields of Long Meadow Farm. The temporary structures provided shade and shelter for the horses during the six-week period between the fire and the move to their new home.
Ms Hanlon’s son, who was also living at the Meadowbrook Road barn at the time of the fire, has since moved in with a friend.
All but two of the clients who were boarding horses at Long Meadow have stayed with Ms Hanlon.
“We have just one empty stall now,” Ms Hanlon said. “The people, it’s been just amazing.”
“This barn is beautiful,” Ms Martinez said. She and her mother were seated in a brightly lit room, a side office space, while talking about the past few months.
The family doesn’t have any plans to move again. By September 1, they had moved to Hundred Acres Road. With help from their caretaker and a few family members, they spent that first month clearing brush and some of the land, living up to a promise to their new landlord.
Nine stalls have been rented.
“We’re just hoping for a couple more boarders, and we’ll be all set,” Ms Martinez said.
Rebuilding aside, the trauma is not gone. Ms Hanlon admits she still cries a lot when she thinks about the morning of the fire and all that was lost.
“We can’t, truly, from the bottom of our hearts, we can’t thank people enough for everything they’ve done,” Ms Martinez said, her voice breaking.
The barn at Long Meadow Farm has been razed. Ms Martinez returned to the property one last time a few weeks ago, before everything was cleared.
“I was hoping to find Mommy’s cast iron pans,” she said. “I knew they wouldn’t have burned up in a fire, but everything’s leveled now.”
Those pans, she said, were her mother’s favorite cookware.
“I had them 50 years,” Ms Hanlon said. “I loved those pans.”
On the eastern wall of the office they were sitting in that rainy afternoon, the women pointed out one item that was saved from the fire. A brass bridle rack, pulled from the tack room of the previous barn, has been nailed to the wall.
“I found that and cleaned it and knew it had to come in here with us,” Ms Martinez said. “That was the only thing that was not destroyed in that room.”
On the sill of a window in that same room sits a small elephant figurine, the start of a new collection for Ms Hanlon.
“Mommy loves elephants,” Ms Martinez explained. “She lost all of hers but was given this small one to restart her collection.”
Outside, a few metal decorations — one a cutout of a horse, another the cutout of a pig — were saved from the ashes on Meadowbrook Road. They have been mounted to the top of fence posts surrounding the corral outside the barn, and the Long Meadow Farm sign now leans against the barn
The family is together, however, and they know that is what is most important.
“Out of tragedy always comes a silver lining,” Ms Martinez said.
“My silver lining is her,” she added, leaning toward her mother. “She’s living in a house that’s not attached to the barn, and she’s safe again.”