BRATTLEBORO -- Linda DeJordy was playing with her grandson in the bedroom of her Elliot Street apartment on Wednesday, Oct. 16, when she got a call from a friend who was driving nearby.
"Is your house on fire?" the friend asked.
So DeJordy walked to the first-floor porch and took a look. No flames.
"Then all of a sudden a friend of the family who was in the kitchen ... hears this pop and she went outside and she looked down and people ... were like, ‘Fire, fire,'" DeJordy told the Reformer. "And she came flying through the house to me to tell me the house was on fire."
DeJordy got her safely outside and her son, Randy Jr., moved her vehicle, which was located right outside the building. She then raced back inside to alert an older upstairs neighbor of the fire and got her out. DeJordy and her family then stood outside and watched the raging fire destroy their home and turn their lives upside down.
Seventeen people and several pets were left homeless, though unharmed, by the third-floor inferno at 214 Elliot St., and it took more than 60 firefighters from 12 different towns nearly 12 hours to extinguish it. The American Red Cross moved in the day of the fire and provided services. DeJordy said the organization paid for her family to spend three nights at the Super 8 off Exit 3. Some town residents almost immediately organized relief efforts and the building's landlord, Bob Remy-Powers, set up the Elliot Street Fire Relief Fund at the TD Bank on Main Street to help the victims.
Though materials donations poured into local businesses Love It Twice and Whippersnappers, contributions to the relief fund proved lackluster -- roughly $800 came in -- $44 per victim.
Cindy Coble, a former resident of the ravaged building who spearheaded the relief efforts, and DeJordy have expressed frustration over the dismal numbers. DeJordy believes it may have something to do with where the building was located.
"If that building wasn't on Elliot Street, but up (on Canal Street), we would have gotten a better response. It's Elliot Street -- it has a bad reputation. Bob cleaned it up and got better people in and was not renting to young kids and stuff ... but the stigma of that house would always be there," she told the Reformer in the living room of her new apartment, also owned by Remy-Powers, on Pleasant Street. "What I feel is that even though the town of Brattleboro wasn't devastated, 17 people's lives were devastated."
Coble, as well as DeJordy, voiced gratitude for the people who donated, but agreed that the aftermath was a disappointment.
"I think the response could have been greater. There were a lot of other tragedies at that time, and I think people were overwhelmed," she said. "I was looking for help in coordinating help, and I came up empty-handed. I couldn't find anyone who was available to push for attention to the cause."
Coble mentioned, however, that Bethany Thies started a mealtrain.com account to organize meals for the victims.
She said the building's stigma may have been a reason for the lack of help; many people assumed the fire started because the structure was a front for a crackhouse or a meth lab.
For DeJordy, the fire was just the beginning of a tragic few months in 2013, as Randy Jr. died on Thursday, Dec. 12. And her son's death may have other consequences for her and her grandson.
DeJordy moved into her three-bedroom Pleasant Street apartment on Sunday, Dec. 1, with financial assistance from the Vermont State Housing Authority. She told Reformer she believes she will have to move soon because the VSHA will help pay for only two-bedroom homes now that her son is dead.
VSHA Executive Director Richard Williams explained a housing payment standard typically decreases following the death of a household resident, though the family is allowed to stay in its current situation for a year before being asked to downsize. He was unaware of DeJordy's particular circumstances before getting a phone call from the Reformer and said the VSHA will try to work with DeJordy and come up with a compromise. He said he believes the housing payment standard for a two-bedroom home in Windham County is $915 a month, while that for a three-bedroom home is about $1,122. Williams said DeJordy is contributing a percentage of her income to pay her rent.
But Coble said DeJordy isn't the only victim, as there were 16 other people left homeless by the fire and the tattered building had to be torn down. She said the structure housed her family's first apartment in Brattleboro when they moved to town from Provincetown, Mass., in 1996. Coble said she had a great home on Elliot Street, and it pains her to see an empty lot where it once stood.
"I have wonderful memories of living there," she said. "It was heartbreaking to lose it and drive by and see it the way it was after the fire."
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.