MAHOPAC, N.Y.— Madison Martinez wasn’t even supposed to be home the Monday afternoon of April 18. But her class at Providence College had been cancelled so she decided to postpone her departure one more day.
Madison was in her 12 Mega Lane home on the Mahopac/Carmel border doing homework on her laptop while waiting for her laundry to finish. Her 16-year-old sister, Chloe, was taking a nap. Her mom, Alison, who works for a Wall Street financial firm, was at work. That was when Madison smelled something strange.
“I thought I smelled something weird, but it didn’t really smell like a fire—not like wood burning,” said Madison, who turned 22 last week. “I got up and looked around the corner and I saw smoke and flames through the window out on the porch. There were no fire alarms going off because it was outside. I just started screaming for Chloe to get up.”
Madison, who was a cheerleader in high school, is pretty adept at screaming.
“When she yells, it’s pretty scary,” Chloe laughed. “I didn’t know what she was yelling about. I was half asleep and I was confused.”
Both girls got out of the house quickly. Chloe just wrapped a comforter around herself, while Madison grabbed her laptop as well as her mom’s computer and ushered the family dogs out of the house. They made their way to a neighbor’s lawn.
“I put the laptops down,” she said. “There was nothing more we could do. I called my mom.”
The house was a complete inferno before the fire department would even arrive.
“The house was 25 years old, but it was solidly built,” Alison said. “But it had cedar siding and the wind really whipped it around the house. The conditions were horrendous.”
Alison was on a train on her way home from work when the call from her daughter came.
“I didn’t recognize the number because she was using someone else’s phone and I answered it and she screamed, ‘Mommy the house is on fire! The house is on fire! It’s gone...it’s gone,’” Alison recalled. “And the phone went dead. I was still 40 minutes out on the train—still in White Plains. It was the longest train ride of my life; it was surreal. But at least I knew they were OK. And by the time I got there it was pretty much done.”
The fire destroyed everything—burning the house to the ground and leaving the Martinez women with nothing but the clothes on their backs, the two laptops and their two dogs. In fact, the house was so decimated that fire investigators said they couldn’t determine a cause. However, the Martinez’s are pretty sure they know.
“The fire started exactly where the dryer vent came out underneath the porch,” Alison said. “We had an investigator who has been doing this for over 30 years come down from Boston and he interviewed the neighbors. They saw [what the girls] saw; It was very centrally located right underneath my [home office] window and the porch that was made of mahogany and every year stained with oil. Madison had just been using the dryer for clothes she was getting ready to bring back to college. They think it started in the [vent] and was looking for oxygen and with the [windy] conditions it was pulled out and...Boom!”
But it was hard for the fire investigators to say conclusively that was the way it started.
“The dryer was in a million pieces and there was no evidence that they could reconstruct,” Alison said.
It wasn’t long before the family’s friends and neighbors—and eventually the entire community, including strangers—began to rally around them.
Alison’s close friend and neighbor, Lydia Mercurio, actually went to Marshalls while the fire was still raging and bought the women clothes and other items she knew they would need.
“She bought us all the basics—yoga paints, pajamas, underwear, socks, sweaters, sweatshirts, toothpaste, toothbrushes, blow dryers,” said Madison.
Mercurio and her boyfriend invited the women to stay with them while they figured out their next move.
“We lost everything, but we had each other,” Madison said.
“We have our [difficult] moments, but we pick each other up,” Alison said. “The community has been amazing.”
Alison said that everyone in the community from Mahopac to Carmel reached out to her—dropping food off and gift cards and starting their own little fundraisers, including the cheerleading squad, and all the restaurants that give them gift cards so the family could eat there.
“It’s been overwhelming the love and support we’ve received,” Alison said.
Alison said that Ramiro’s restaurant in Mahopac has been particularly supportive and that Jan Jimenez, one of its co-owners took a particular interest in them
“Jan is an amazing woman,” Alison said. “She’s been collecting clothes for us. We were eating there and she sat down with us and said, ‘What are we going to do? What sizes do you where? I am on this.’”
Alison called the list of community members who helped them out “endless.”
“It’s started with our closest neighbor and has just gone out from that,” she said. “Strangers have helped out. I had stranger come up and bring me brownies and a gift card. Unbelievable.”
Alison said their insurance company has been extremely helpful throughout the ordeal.
“We still have to pay a mortgage on a house that is not there, but the insurance company has been wonderful,” she said. “They helped with the rental house we just moved into and provided us rental furniture that was just delivered today.”
The plan, Alison said, is to eventually rebuild their house right on the spot where the old one stood.
“[The rental home] is another stepping stone and hopefully within a year this house will be rebuilt,” she said.
Alison’s son, R.J. Martinez, was a star basketball player a few years ago for Mahopac High and was nicknamed “the Goose.” His friends and teammates referred to the house as the Goose Nest.
“They were devastated that the Goose Nest is gone,” Alison said. “All of them would come here and hang out. We have known them for years. But the Goose Nest will be rebuilt.”
Alison said she’s been working with the town’s building department to find the home’s blueprints to they can collaborate with an architect to start the rebuilding process. Last Thursday, work crews were already in the process of cleaning up the site.
“It will pretty much be the same house. We loved our house,” she said. “We might tweak a few things, but it will pretty much the same. We were not ready to go and that [fire] is not going to make us go. I am not going to leave the neighborhood that I have loved for 17 years like this.”
Someday, she hopes to pay back the kindnesses that have been shown to her and her family.
“I will find a way to pay it forward and say thank you,” Alison said. “It’s a horrible thing to happen to someone but I have the community and my friends to thank and the way they came together was amazing.”