With smoke clear, reality sets in

Two families recover from fire losses

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Five weeks have passed since two Williston families lost nearly everything they owned to fire.

“I think that now that the holidays are over and we’re trying to get back into a normal life it’s kind of sinking in with all of us,” Lynne Moon said last week. “We’re trying to catch up at work and at school and trying to keep things moving forward on the rebuilding. I think we’re all feeling just a little overwhelmed right now.”

Moon, her husband Stephen, and their daughters Hayley, an eighth grader, and Aubrey, a high school senior, lost their home on Dec. 13 in a fire officials say was caused by a kitchen electrical problem. Judy Benoit, 65, her son Shawn, 30, and his girlfriend Molly McHugh also lost their home – an apartment above the garage of the Moons’ farmhouse.

“There’s still so much to figure out,” Judy Benoit said last week. “Every day we talk about something and I realize ‘oh my gosh, that’s gone too.’”

Both families say the Christmas holiday was better than might otherwise have been expected.

Staff at the Hampton Inn where her family is staying, Benoit said, “made it so, so much easier for me, and they cared.” The Hampton Inn donated a Christmas dinner for twelve to the Benoits, and staff members gave them numerous gift certificates. “I’ll spend the rest of my life thanking these people.”

The Moons found four stockings filled with gifts for each of them at the home of the family for whom they were pet sitting. A Champlain Valley Union High School senior showed up Christmas morning with “large amounts” of wrapped packages that he’d gotten donated from local stores.

“We were all floored by the kindness and generosity of people at Christmastime,” Moon said. “There were a lot of gifts that appeared anonymously. What we thought was going to be a horrible Christmas turned out to be a wonderful Christmas.”

One precious gift was Autumn, the third Moon family cat to reappear after the fire. The family lost the fourth cat and a dog. The Benoits also lost their dog to the fire.

Both families are still dealing with many logistics. Judy Benoit is looking for a permanent place to live, as is her son and his girlfriend who resumed classes at Champlain College last week. The Moons, who are renting a house in Colchester, are dealing with banks and builders and insurance agents, Lynne Moon said. They’re also finalizing a carpool schedule to get Hayley to and from Williston Central School daily.

And then there are emotions to address.

“There’s good and bad days,” Hayley said. “Having more time to think about it just makes it worse. If I keep busy it’s good.”

Responses from friends vary, Hayley said.

“Some of them still aren’t really sure how to act or go about it,” she said. “Others just act like nothing happened most of the time; (they) keep it normal.”

Lynne Moon said sometimes the family drives through their Chapman Lane neighborhood because “it feels good.”

“We miss our neighborhood,” she said, tears beginning to well in her eyes. “We can’t wait to be home.”

Moon said they hope to pour the foundation of a new house on their now-empty lot as soon as the weather allows. She said they may organize construction parties in the spring.