Community comes together to rebuild man's home lost to fire

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MARSHFIELD, Vt. (WCAX) The community in Marshfield are working to rebuild their neighbor’s house that caught fire during the holidays.

Joe Lee’s house burned the day after Christmas. Lee says he was out-of-town when the fire broke out and when returned home that morning with his dog, he found his house fully engulfed in flames.

Lee says it’s still unclear what ignited the fire.

“It’s a mystery. The fire marshal has no Idea. They inspect it was electrical but they have no way of knowing that for sure,” Lee said.

Lee told WCAX News he lost everything.

“It’s overwhelming to be honest with you. Luckily, the dog and I were out. There were two cats in the house. Obviously, they did not make it,” he said. “Nothing of real value in there but a lot of sentimental: papers, pictures, books, whatever.”

Lee’s neighbors are trying to salvage what remains.

“The deck is still good. The floor and the beams is still good inside the building and the only way they're going to stay good is if they don't get wet all winter long. So we're just suring up the burned out upstairs to keep the roof on it and keep the snow off it,” said Henry Harris. “Joe’s been farming here for over thirty years and without his help, we could’ve never have gotten a farm like this and now he needs help from us and we’re going to give him everything we’ve got.”

Lee sold the house to Harris a year ago. Harris says he and Lee agreed that Lee would still live in the house while Harris maintained it. Harris says he was devastated to hear about the fire but was even more heartbroken when he realized he forgot to renew the homeowner’s insurance.

“The drop-dead date had been a couple weeks earlier. So I had really fallen down on my commitment to Joe so I'm hoping to pick it back up. I am picking it back up, trying to salvage what we can and make sure he's comfortable,” he said.

Harris is leading the effort to rebuild Joe’s house. On Saturday, he and a group of friends spent all day reinforcing the foundation of the building.

“I think that's part of the Vermont tradition. You know, neighbors run into some problems, people come together and pitch in and help out,” said volunteer Rick Barstow.

Drew McNaughton, another volunteer, said people were helping out in “all sorts of ways.”

“There’s tons of people in the basement insulating the water supply. Right now, we’re just staving off as much of the moisture as we can so we can save the basement and the bottom layer of the house,” said McNaughton.

Lee says it’s a blessing to have community support during this difficult time.

“The outreach has been amazing. People have been helpful and I just want to say thank you to anybody who has helped in any way. God bless you,” said Lee. “I have a great family and a great circle of neighbors and friends so I’m blessed in that way.”

Harris says they want to raise at least $20,000 to fund the construction costs. He says they have access to some free building supplies and free labor.

“When we start trying to put in the insulation and the appliances, whatever new heat system he’s going to need— although it looks like the heat system and the water system are fine— so he’s going to need a new electric and stuff like that. We don’t really know. We’re trying to just raise $20,000 and get a new shell put up in the spring and get it as close to live ale as we can and go from there,” Harris said.

Volunteers will be gathering at the house again on Sunday to continue the project.

There’s currently no timeline on when the final product will be complete.