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Community mobilizes in aftermath of fire

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LACONIA — Community support for the people who were displaced by Tuesday’s multi-alarm apartment building fire has been extraordinary, according to one key Red Cross worker who has been working with the victims.

“How quickly this community came together to help these people is inspiring, I’m just awestruck by all the support,” said Susan Doherty-Funke, who heads the agency’s Lakes Region Action Team.

An example of that support is the effort by Gilford resident Michael Vertone who on Wednesday started collecting donated food, clothing, bedding, and furniture for the eight households who had to flee their apartments at 17 Dyer St.

“Donations are pouring in already,” said Vertone, who on Thursday brought a sofa, lamp, bureau and other furniture for Debra Paquette’s new apartment.

Paquette said she was fortunate to get a lead on another apartment at the Opechee Gardens complex just hours after the fire.

“I was so fortunate to find an apartment,” Paquette said as Vertone and a couple of his workers set up a donated sofa.

Wearing a T-shirt imprinted with “Kindness Matters,” Paquette said she lost everything in her apartment, except for her three cats and important papers. She had no insurance, she said.

Doherty-Funke said most of the displaced families have been able to move into other apartments or are staying with family members. Two families are still staying temporarily in hotels. Both have insurance, she said.

She said Keystone Properties, the building’s owner, has been working to connect the burned-out tenants with new places to live.

Doherty-Funke said it is still “unclear” what Keystone will do with the eight-unit, two-story building, where between 16 and 18 people were living when the five-alarm fire struck shortly after 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The fire is considered suspicious. Laconia Police Chief Matt Canfield said the investigation has so far led them to three people they consider persons of interest.

Vertone, who runs a tree cleaning business, said he is accepting donations of non-perishable food, clothing, bed linens, and furniture. He said donations can be dropped off at his house at 1024 Cherry Valley Road (Route 11A) or people who wish to make donations can call him at 603-851-3283.

Doherty-Funke said six families are continuing to get assistance in some form from the Red Cross — either financial, mental health or spiritual support.

As to the level of community support, Doherty-Funke said she was also impressed by the help the victims received from the Laconia Fire and Police departments, and the city’s animal control officer. In addition the School District opened the nearby Laconia Middle School for the families to use as a short-term shelter. School personnel also gave breakfast to the victims in the hours immediately after the disaster.

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