Growing Up

The Time a Fire Left Me Homeless


Thirty years ago I lost almost everything I owned in a fire, except of course, the most important thing, my life. I was a junior at Assumption College in Worcester, sharing an off campus apartment with five of my friends. It was a dumpy six bedroom unit in an old Victorian, that would later be called a tenement by a reporter. The neighborhood was sketchy, the wallpaper faded and very old lady, there was no air conditioning, and only one bathroom, but it was home. That rundown eyesore was the scene of some raging parties there, served as a place to study for exams and type papers, and most importantly, it is where we strengthened our friendships that are now in their fourth decade.


On a warm night on April 28, 1984 our home was destroyed by fire. The landlord, and I’ll use the adverb “unwisely” in place of what spontaneously comes to mind, was peeling paint with a blow torch. The ancient wood inside sparked flames that stealthly spread through the hollow walls. It happened around 6:30 at night, so my roommates all got out safely. I was working that night at Legal Sea Foods and got a call there that went something like this “Denny, the house burned down and your room got it the worst.”


They sounded serious, but I couldn’t be sure so I called the Worcester Fire Department to verify. It was true. When I got there, the roomies had been right. My room was trashed. Notebooks left on my bed and desk were charred. Our refrigerator survived and kept the beer cold that we so needed that night.


Our disaster made the front page of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, with the headline “Three Alarm Fire Leaves 13 Homeless.” We learned in print that our beloved home was considered a tenement. I’m sure our friends in the dorms were jealous. We were nearing exams so we crashed with friends for the next two weeks and moved back with our parents for the summer. Thanks to those parents, we were able to collect under their homeowner’s insurance because we were considered dependents and replace the clothes and furniture destroyed in the blaze.


Here are some more pictures from a yellowed photo album collecting dust in my attic.




my desk:


my bed:



my ceiling:


5 replies »

  1. nothing worse, we lost EVERYTHING In a fire, still makes me ill! all our pictures,memories and collections! 33 years ago, not even shoes on our feet! to this day i leave clothes on cedar chest at end of bed! if i even smell smoke i am up, looking…until u have lived it no clue!


  2. Wow! Must have been such a terrifying time. Thank God you all made it out safe. Very “kind” adverb.


  3. Been there, done that. Have the pictures. Ours was a cold night Feb, 2005. our 3 family home caught fire – electrical problem in the walls. Luckily no one was hurt, and we were able to get out. I feel for you Dennis. But I look at life differently now – It was all just stuff. Stuff is replaceable. People aren’t. We are all still here to talk about it.


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