Three homes burn downtown, leaving two families homeless

Published 11:38 pm Wednesday, June 24, 2009

As she sat on a stone bench and watched her house burn, Barbara Cooper-Pabis was not surprised or stressed.

“We’re not shocked, because we’ve turned in so many complaints on this empty house,” she said, indicating the smoldering shell next to her home. A fire on Franklin Street Wednesday evening burned three houses and a two-story garage behind one of the houses and sent four firefighters to the hospital with minor injuries.

Cooper-Pabis also joked that her family has had “stress training” after enduring her daughter Callen’s extremely premature birth. She attributed their calm demeanor to having endured that situation as she watched firefighters battle the blaze.

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“It was our first house,” she said. “We’ve been slowly restoring it.”

The fire began in or near a house that has been vacant for years. Cooper-Pabis said her family had complained to the city numerous times about the home. City spokeswoman Debbie George said at the scene that she couldn’t verify or answer questions about the complaints.

The call came in to Suffolk communications about 5:30 p.m. The fire spread from the vacant house to the two houses on either side. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Melvin Johnson, who rents an apartment in the house on the other side of the vacant house from the Pabises, said a neighbor reported seeing somebody behind the vacant house just before the fire started.

Frances Goldsberry, who lives in the home on the other side of the Pabis family, said her roommate ran out of the bathroom saying the house was on fire.

“We ran downstairs, got the lady downstairs and her baby out, and then knocked on the door next door,” she said. Goldsberry then went back in the home to retrieve her bird and cat.

“I thanked God, because everybody’s OK,” she said.

Units from Suffolk, Driver, Chuckatuck and Holland responded to the fire, and units from neighboring communities were manning the stations in case additional calls came in, George said.

The Pabis family and their dog will be staying with friends, they said. The family from the other occupied home is receiving lodging assistance from the American Red Cross.