Neighbors and strangers have turned out in force to help a family whose uninsured home and barn on Old County Road in Pembroke was destroyed by fire on Sunday, January 3. As of the morning of January 6, 136 people had donated a total of $7,855 through a GoFundMe fund set up for Tony, Tabitha, Kaleb and Rhiannon Bennett.
In addition, because the family farm included horses, cows, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits, cats, dogs and one goose, the Maine Veterans Project donated a building to shelter the animals. Pigeon Hill Tractor donated time and labor to transport the building to Pembroke, and a resident in the area is housing three horses as well as grain.
Food and clothing have come from many different donors, and when the Bennetts find a home, the Washington Hancock Community Agency has offered to pay the rent for the first six months.
Pembroke Fire Chief James Ramsdell says the 911 call reporting the fire was made from the Bennetts' mobile home at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon after Tabitha Bennett spotted a glow in the family's two-story barn from the kitchen window.
"Perry fire department showed up first, and about 25 firefighters from Perry, Dennysville and Pembroke fought the blaze," reports Ramsdell. "Everything was fully involved when the first firefighters arrived, and the scene was not cleared until 8 p.m."
Although the livestock were outside the barn and none were injured, the Bennetts couldn't find the two cats who were in the mobile home when the fire was discovered. All seven of the family's cats were still missing two days after the fire.
Ramsdell says the State Fire Marshal's Office was not called because the fire was believed to be electrical in nature and an accident, and the property was not insured.
There were no injuries, and Ramsdell says the firefighters "had plenty of water" to fight the blaze.
Help comes from many sources
In a show of community support, the Pembroke Parent Teacher Community group is hosting a benefit potluck dinner on Friday, January 15, at 5 p.m. in the Pembroke Elementary School gym. Brad Sawyer will provide live music, and funds will be raised from a dessert auction and Chinese raffle. All food and dessert items must be nut‑free. Items for the raffle may be dropped off at Pembroke Elementary School or call 726‑5564.
Tickets are also being sold for one cord of hardwood, cut, split and delivered, which is being donated by Joe Jordan. Call Brent Ellinwood at 726-0831 to purchase tickets.
Volunteers are needed to help move things upstairs for storage at the Bennett family's new home on 195 Old County Road, across from James and Tammy Ramsdell. The entire downstairs area needs to be cleaned. V.L. Tammaro filled the oil tank, donating the first 100 gallons of kerosene, and the Pembroke Trotting Association is covering the rest of the cost.
The Bennetts have enough donated clothing, so useful everyday items such as gift cards to purchase food, daily needs, farm supplies and heating fuel are now needed. The family also lost daily hygiene essentials such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, hair products, hair ties and deodorant.
Family pictures were lost, and anyone who has pictures of the family is encouraged to drop them off to Tammy Ramsdell or the Pembroke Elementary School.
Information on further plans and donations needed is posted and updated on a Facebook page set up for the Bennett family at <www.facebook.com/bennettfamilysupport/>.
If anyone would like to send anything to the family directly, their mailing address is 478 Old County Road, Pembroke, ME 04666 and the GoFundMe account is at <https://www.gofundme.com/BennettFireRelief>.