BURRILLVILLE – Several town organizations are coming together today to help three families displaced by a fire two days before Christmas that destroyed a multifamily East Avenue home.

The blaze, which was called in by a resident around 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 23, caused, “significant damage,” to the building, according to Harrisville Fire Chief Michael Gingell.

“It can’t be reoccupied at this time,” Gingell said.

Mutual aid from all town fire departments, as well as some surrounding towns, was called to the four-alarm fire, which was extinguished in around 90 minutes.

Firefighters were able to rescue four cats and several guinea pigs from the building at 23 East Ave., as well as some of the occupants’ Christmas gifts.

“They’re all in good condition and were returned to owners,” Gingell said of the pets.

Gingell said there were no injuries to either people or firefighters, but all of the residents have been displaced. Two of the families are being assisted by the Rhode Island Red Cross, while the third is staying with a relative.

Locals may be familiar with the house, located just across the road from the Assembly Theatre in Harrisville, from its elaborate and festive annual holiday displays.

Firefighters cleared scene around 2 a.m., early Thursday morning, and state fire marshals are now investigating the cause of the blaze.

The Harrisville Fire Department, led by Safety Officer Amanda Gingell, and the Burrillville School Department are now working with local organizations, including Between the Cracks and the St. Patrick’s Food Pantry, to help the families, and will hold a drive on Thursday.

According to Supt. Michael Sollitto, those displaced included Burrillville students who attend Levy Elementary School, as well as the middle school and the high school.

“We’ve had lots of people from the community reach out to our staff members to ask what they could do,” Sollitto said.

Sollitto will open up the Central Office at the middle school building between 1 and 3 p.m. today, Thursday, Dec. 24, to accept donations for the victims, including clothing and household items. The superintendent will help to coordinate delivering items to the families on Christmas.

Sollitto suggested that gift cards to stores such as Walmart and Target could help the families to purchase Christmas gifts..

“It’s a terrible spot for families to be in close to Christmas,” he said.

Ten individuals have been left without a home, including five children and five adults. Items needed include girls’ pants sizes 6/7 and 16/18;  girl’/junior shirts sizes small, medium, large and extra large; girls’ shoes sizes 4. 6, 7 and 7 1/2; men’s pants size 34/30, 36/30, 40/30, and 38/40; men’s shirts size large, 2X and 3X; men’s shoes sizes 9 1/2 and 11 1/2; women’s jeans and pants sizes 13, 15/16 and 16/18; leggings size 3X; and women’s shirts sizes 3X.

Any donations for the victims can be brought to the building at 2220 Broncos Highway between 1 and 3 p.m.

With the tragedy so close to Christmas, a second source has also stepped in to help the families.

Santa Claus will be accepting donations for the victims on Thursday night, Christmas Eve, at the Harrisville gazebo at the Town Commons, located just steps away from the scene of the tragedy. Donations can be brought to the location after 6 p.m.

Santa’s helper, Nicole Hoyt Martin, said that any items will help.

“We feel terrible for everyone,” Martin said. ” I have a soft spot for anyone affected by these kinds of things. I’m so glad they are OK.”

Those who missed the events, but would still like to donate, are instructed to contact Gingell or Terri Lacey.

Photo credit: Chris St. Amant
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