EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

January 31, 2013

Family hit by fire, housebreak, too

Community groups, friends and relatives all pitching in to help out

LAWRENCE — Toni Durfee didn’t think it could get any worse.

At around 2 a.m. the morning of Jan. 19, she and her extended family of children and grandchildren living at 70 Berkeley St. woke up to the sound of burning timbers and the glow of a house fire.

“I have sleep apnea so I woke up and smelled plastic,” said Durfee, 48. She looked out her first-floor bedroom window, which overlooks the back yard, and saw an orange glow, but she didn’t know what it was or where it was coming from. Then she heard crackling, which thought sounded like rain.

“Then I heard my granddaughters running around upstairs,” she said. “I got up and went into the kitchen and all at the same time, the neighbors started pounding on the kitchen window and my daughter ran downstairs yelling that the house was on fire.”

Durfee and nine others, including her children and grandchildren, fled the two-family dwelling. They watched from a neighbor’s house across the street as their home for 15 years was destroyed. Hampered by low water pressure and beaten back by the ferocity of the blaze, even firefighters were powerless to stop the relentless destruction.

As bad as it was, the next day things got worse.

At 8 a.m. Sunday Durfee’s former husband allegedly broke into the building and stole a 32-inch LG television, an Apple computer, a laptop and a radio, according to a police report on the incident.

The next door neighbor, David Vasquez, told police he “observed his ex-neighbor Richard Ayala in the yard with a beige trash barrel full of stuff.” He said it looked like it was loaded with electronics, including a computer and a TV.

Police now have a warrant out for the arrest of Ayala, 47, who is currently homeless but was living in the house until late last year, on charges of breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony, and larceny.

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