"It was really nerve-racking, it really was," said Mary-Jane Roberts.
The Springfield resident awoke to flashing lights early Monday morning. She grabbed her IPad and began recording the scene unfolding across the street from her home. "I opened the shades and we were met with this roof on fire. It looked from end-to-end the roof was burning," she said.
Officials say the Valley Street fire started in a second floor apartment and quickly spread. Nearly 20 people escaped unharmed, but they're now homeless -- including Leslie Hobbs and his fiance. They're receiving help from the Red Cross. "I'm worried about my cat. We don't know where he went. He was in the apartment and then he was gone," Hobbs said.
Hobbs's story is now part of a growing statistic in the region. So far this fiscal year the Red Cross has responded to 110 fires in all of Vermont and the 12 Upper Valley communities it serves in New Hampshire. That's a 15 percent increase compared to the same time last year. "It's been busy, it really has, " said the Red Cross' Bruce Pollock. "We are doing a huge number of calls this year -- way over what we're doing last year."
And they project that number will be 157 responses to fires by the time the fiscal year wraps up. That compares to 137 last year, 117 in 2011, and 106 in 2010.
It's not just a matter of finding food, clothing and housing for victims of fires. It also involves the organization of resources throughout the community. "HCRS, the police department, a social worker has been here. Springfield supportive housing has come down -- they are helping out -- the superintendent of schools, because one family has children," Pollock said.
The efforts make a big difference for victims like Hobbs, who is trying to find a bright spot after a very bad day. "The fire didn't reach our apartment -- it was above us -- so it looks like we got lucky. We have some stuff," he said.
Firefighters are still trying to determine the cause of the fire but at this time they are saying that it is not considered suspicious.
Along with financial contributions, the Red Cross is also looking for volunteers.