By Mike LaBella
HAVERHILL — Robyn Good said that if it wasn’t for a man driving by, she and her family might have been trapped inside their burning home.
Fire officials said it was a fast moving fire that began yesterday morning when a minivan in the family’s driveway somehow ignited and the flames quickly spread to the first-floor walls.
Deputy Fire chief Douglas Brown said the fire moved rapidly through the walls of the old “balloon” style of construction home at 23 Lancaster St. and within minutes it had reached the attic.
“When we arrived we knocked down the van fire then went to the first floor and put that out, then we went to the second floor and into the attic to try to open ceilings and walls to try to get at the fire, but it got a pretty good start,” Brown said.
Despite the best efforts of firefighters, the home was a total loss, Good said.
The family learned that the man who banged on their doors was Norfolk Street resident Bob Maglio, who was driving by at the time and noticed the mini-van in their driveway was on fire. Norfolk Street is just north of Lancaster Street, and is also off of Primrose Street.
Attempts to reach Maglio yesterday were unsuccessful.
“He told us that after he stopped his truck, he grabbed his fire extinguisher and started banging on our siding and doors,” Good said. “That must have been the loud banging that I heard.”
“We lost everything, including family photos we can’t replace,” Good said. “But thankfully we all got out and our two dogs are safe.”
Good said her family has lived in the home for over 40 years and that the fire destroyed all their possessions, including albums of family photographs that can’t be replaced and more than $500 in Christmas presents her mother and her son and his girlfriend had purchased this week.
Good said everyone got out safely, as did her two dogs, one of whom is disabled and had to be carried out. She said her mother lost a pair of hearing aids, and she lost a 32-inch flat screen television her boyfriend gave her for her birthday in October. She said she also lost four “happy” goldfish while her son Andrew lost several tropical fish.
Also lost was a cradle, one of Robyn Good’s few reminders of her first child, Robie, who died at seven months of age of SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
“It’s all gone, but everyone is safe and that’s the important thing,” she said.
She said her father was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation, and that he was subsequently released and was doing fine.
Deputy Brown said the fire was reported at 7:06 a.m. and was the result of a mini-van that somehow caught on fire and was parked under a car port at the right side of the home. Lancaster Street is narrow street that connects Hale Street and Primrose Street, and is just a few blocks north of Winter Street.
National Grid had to shut off the power to the home, which also affected a neighbor’s home.
Anastasia Gotsis was standing in the street yesterday morning along with her neighbors who’d been burned out of their home. Gotsis said that for her own safety, firefighters had asked her to evacuate her home while they were battling the blaze next door. She said they had to shut off the power to her home as well. She worried about the Greek spinach pies she’d baked and frozen the night before.
“I was supposed to bake this morning too, but that’s OK just as long as my neighbors are safe,” Gotsis said. “They are the best neighbors I’ve ever had in my life. The man clears my driveway of snow and even helps clear the street.”
“I hope they rebuild or else I’m going to miss them very much,” Gotsis added. “We’re like a big family here.”
Robyn Good’s mother, Donna Good said she lives at 23 Lancaster St. with her husband Robert Good.
She said it was her 2003 Ford Windstar that somehow caught fire, and that it was parked in front of her husband’s Ford Econline Van, which was also destroyed by fire.
“We were all still asleep when a man began banging on our doors,” Donna Good said. “He woke up my husband, who woke me up.”
“The man saved our lives,” Donna Good added.
“It was scary as the fire moved really fast,” Robyn Good said. “Because of Bob Maglio, we were able to get out quickly.”
“When I got downstairs the fire was coming through the kitchen windows and I could feel the heat of it on the side of my face,” Robyn Good said. “If it was just a few minutes longer we might have been trapped.”
She said firefighters arrived just after her family got out of the house.
“We can’t ask for better response than that,” Robyn Good said.
Robyn Good said firefighters did a good job in preventing the fire from spreading to neighboring homes.
“They were phenomenal,” Robyn Good said. “They retrieved some family photos, my son Andrew’s kindergarten diploma and one of Robie’s two baby shoes that I had in a curio cabinet. I’ll forever be thankful for that.”
She said the American Red Cross provided her family with two rooms at a local hotel. She said she was planning to move to an apartment in New Hampshire after the holidays and hopes that her parents can find permanent housing.
“I’ve spent my whole life here and raised my son here as well,” Robyn Good said while standing in the street looking at what remained of her family’s home. “This is where I used to play kickball and hide and seek until the lights came on.”
Kat Powers, communications director for the American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts, said the Red Cross is providing recovery funds to help the family displaced by the fire. She said the emergency funds will cover food, clothing, winter coats and shoes.