BRATTLEBORO -- British author Rudyard Kipling, who used to own a home in this area, once wrote that the "strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack."
And locals are now harnessing that feeling of community to aid the victims of a devastating fire at 214 Elliot St., mere miles from where the author of "The Jungle Book" once lived.
Dot Lenhart and Cindy Coble recently started the Elliot Street Fire Fund on Facebook (with more than 60 members) and property owner Bob Remy-Powers set up a special bank account at Main Street's TD Bank location for his tenants living in the apartment building destroyed on Wednesday, Oct. 16. It's just one of several local efforts put together to help the victims.
Seventeen people, including children, and several pets were left homeless as a result of the three-alarm fire that turned their home into an inferno and took 60 firefighters from 12 towns almost 12 hours to extinguish. All of the building's occupants were unharmed, though not all were inside when the fire started, and have received assistance from the Vermont & New Hampshire Upper Valley American Red Cross.
Remy-Powers previously told the Reformer six of the seven apartment units were being rented out.
Brattleboro Fire Chief Mike Bucossi has credited the call's first six responders, under the leadership of Capt. Billy Johnson, with preventing the blaze from reducing the building to ash and spreading to surrounding homes.
Lenhart said she was picking up her young grandson, Jai, from the Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro on Wednesday when someone there mentioned the fire, which was still burning. She said she and Jai, whose half-sister lived at 214 Elliot St. with her mother, could not get anywhere near the flames and Jai became terrified about his half-sister's safety.
"We could see so much smoke and he was just in tears," Lenhart recalled, adding that she and Jai soon learned everyone was safe. His half-sister and her family weren't in the building at the time. "He was hugely relieved that she was OK but then he just started thinking that all of her stuff is gone."
Facebook account holders can visit the "Elliot Street Fire Fund" page to find out what items are needed and how donations can be made. One person suggested devising a way to get the affected children Halloween costumes for trick-or-treating today and Wendy M. Levy wrote that her business, Brattleboro Cheese Shop & Cafe; at 39 Main St., has a donation jar for people to contribute money.
Remy-Powers said he opened the bank account on Tuesday but has no idea what will come of it.
"I've never been through this before so I don't know what to expect," he said, adding that he just wanted to help his tenants.
Jeff Lapointe, assistant manager at TD Bank on Main Street, said anyone can walk in with cash or a check they would like to go toward helping the victims and the tellers will assist them in the process of getting it into the account.
Remy-Powers told the Reformer the Red Cross has put up the victims in a hotel.
One of the other efforts is being made by Love It Twice, a used clothing consignment store on Black Mountain Road. Owner Leighann Cwikowski said she took to Facebook the night of the fire to tell followers her shop will do all it can to aid the victims. Within an hour of opening her store the next morning, she said, people had dropped off piles of clothes, bedding, toys and diapers. She said she soon had 100 bags of donations and had to ask her landlord for the key to the adjacent unit to store all the items. She has stopped taking donations until she learns what the victims' specific needs are.
"It has been an amazing response from the community," she said, adding that she has even seen little children donate their favorite toys because they wanted to help someone in need. "I saw a lot of teaching moments with parents."
Cwikowski said victims of the fire can come in any time the store is open and help themselves to the donated items.
Amy Nelson, owner of Whippersnappers on Putney Road, said a stock of store credit began compiling the day after the fire, when a customer called her and wanted to donated the amount she had. Nelson said she then pledged to match every dollar raised by her customers. She said she did something similar after Tropical Storm Irene struck the area in August 2011.
Nelson also planned to deliver $521 in gift certificates for her store to the families with children.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.