North Hero mourns little boys lost in house fire

Published: Oct. 21, 2019 at 12:49 PM EDT
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Communities in the Champlain Islands are pulling together after a tragedy claimed the lives of two young boys this weekend. Our Cat Viglienzoni spent the day in North Hero talking to neighbors and the fire chief.

All that's left of the Maltais family's home is a pile of charred timber. It burned to the ground in the early hours of Saturday. Ever since then, the community has been rallying around them.

"It was a little after one," neighbor Christine Shaw said. "I heard what sounded like an explosion."

That sound woke Shaw. And when she went outside and looked across the street at her neighbor's house, she saw the unthinkable.

"I just saw the house totally engulfed in flames," Shaw said. "I was just hoping that everybody got out."

Sadly, they didn't. The homeowners, Mason and Desiree Maltais, were able to get out. But they couldn't reach their young sons in the second-floor bedrooms. Theodore, 5, and Nathaniel, 11.5 months old, were killed.

Shaw says her daughter used to babysit the little boys and hearing that they were never coming back broke her heart.

"This is just horrifying, just to lose your children," Shaw said. "I can't even imagine losing my child."

Monday, Vermont state police released the cause of the fire. They say it started in the laundry room. Investigators say the family had been doing laundry about an hour before the fire started, and there was some sort of issue with the dryer and the vent system that sparked the blaze.

North Hero Fire Chief Michael Murdoch's reaction when he got on the scene was disbelief. He gives credit to the five towns that responded to fight the fire. The chief says Monday night, first responders are meeting for a critical incident stress debriefing to process what they're dealing with in the aftermath of the fire.

"We're tough responders and we like to shield ourselves from that. But when there are children involved, it takes a different tone," Murdoch said. "I mean, it really rattled folks on scene. It really did."

He says the Maltais family is very active in their community in the Islands. Mason is one of his firefighters and is on the school board. Desiree is the Grand Isle Rescue training officer and an employee at the North Hero House. So when the community heard the horrifying news that their two young sons were killed when their home burned down, they stepped up to help. Murdoch says it's a testament to the tight-knit community here.

"They've become a part of our community and first response family," he said. "We're here to support them."