This is how we choose to remember 8 Elm Street — how it might have looked on April 19, 2016. The handsome bricks, the striking columns, the residents enjoying the big front porch. Not how it looked on the afternoon of April 20.
And what we choose to remember about that day is not the fire that destroyed our oldest group home but the selfless and professional response of the emergency first responders who rushed to the scene, from police officers to firefighters to disaster relief workers. They sought to save lives and property, and they gave us comfort and inspiration just when we needed it the most.
The board, staff and residents of Evergreen Elm offer all of the dedicated public servants of the following organizations a sincere and heartfelt thank you. We also thank the community for its ongoing support.
Bradford City Fire Department
Bradford City Police Department
Volunteer Fire Department
Derrick City Volunteer Fire Department
Salamanca Fire Department
Lieutenant Lucas Johnson, Star Hose Company, Port Allegany
American Red Cross Bradford Era Ad 5-7-2016
Posted: Wednesday, May 11, 2016 10:00 am
By KATE DAY SAGER Era Reporter
For the past three weeks, residents of Evergreen Elm Inc.’s former group home that was destroyed by fire have been adjusting to a new life and a temporary location they can call home, for now.
A fire that was determined to be the result of an electrical issue in a third-floor wall cavity heavily damaged the 8 Elm St. historic residence on April 20. The fire caused over $200,000 in damage and left 11 residents without a home or belongings. While the men stayed at the Best Western Plus Bradford Inn immediately after the fire, they are now residing in two homes in the city that are located near each other.
Debbie Price, executive director of Evergreen Elm, said the agency would prefer not to provide the location of the temporary homes to give the residents privacy in the aftermath of this very public incident.
Price said the men will stay in the “temporary location for an indefinite period of time.
“It’s housing that meets their needs, they’re very close together in two different dwellings and they’re almost right next door to each other,” she said.
“They’ve weathered this very well, they’re kind of a resilient group. They’re probably more resilient than we are.”
When Price asked the residents to comment on the experience, a couple of men provided the following remarks.
“Guys, we are alive and together,” one resident said to his fellow housemates.
Another man summed it up by noting, “I am happy we can stay together.”
Price said the residents have also been “overwhelmed by the community outreach and pleased with everything they’ve received.”
One of the residents who was grateful for his donated footwear remarked, “Look at these new sneakers.”
On a related topic, Price said some furniture has been donated for the homes, and some has been purchased.
“Right now, they don’t have a lot of room for excess furniture,” she said of the temporary houses. “When we get to whatever we build, or buy, we’ll have a lot more room for that kind of thing.”
She said all donations, however, are very much appreciated.
“There have been some wonderful people who have left phone numbers and said ‘When you know you have more space, give us a call,’” Price added. “We’re appreciative of that because we just don’t have the room to store it.”
A woman who was seen dropping off a bedroom set this weekend at the agency said she glad she could help.
“It makes your heart feel good to help them with this,” the woman said of her donation.
Price said the next step for the agency is to determine if an appropriate structure can be purchased or if rebuilding is the most practical solution.
“I’ve been searching the community (for potential homes), and I’ll make a recommendation” to the board of directors, Price remarked. “It will be a board decision on whether we buy something somewhere or rebuild.”
If the latter option is chosen, she is uncertain if rebuilding would be done at the 8 Elm St. site or elsewhere.
“Our goal is definitely to try to keep them together as a family unit,” she said.
On a final note, Price said monetary donations are still gratefully accepted by the agency for the future needs of the residents. Items such as clothing are no longer needed at this point.
“Once we finished getting all of our guys outfitted, the rest of the excess went to Destinations Bradford because they’re going to be starting a clothing drop-in center again,” she concluded.
Oldest Evergreen Elm home destroyed by fire Wednesday
Era photo by Jay Bradish
Fire burns through the roof of 8 Elm St., a group home belonging to Evergreen Elm. No one was injured in Wednesday’s blaze, but the home was destroyed and alternate housing had to be found for the nine people who lived there.
Posted: Wednesday, April 20, 2016 11:00 pm
By KATE DAY SAGER and RUTH BOGDAN Era
From across town, smoke could be seen billowing from the area of Elm Street and South Avenue on Wednesday afternoon. At the scene — 8 Elm St. — bystanders watched as firefighters sprayed the rooftop of the Evergreen Elm home from multiple angles, occasional flames leaking from the roof.
Deborah Price, executive director of the Evergreen Elm residential social services program, was at the scene of the fire and said all nine residents of the group home escaped without harm.
There were no other injuries, but the cause remains under the investigation, said Bradford City fire Lt. Greg Lewis.
Lewis said the Bradford City and Bradford Township fire departments were initially dispatched at 12:08 p.m., and the last units didn’t clear until 7:41 p.m. It took the combined efforts of several fire departments working either on scene or standing by at other stations.
At the same time as the first dispatch, a passerby began evacuating residents from the home, and a minute later Bradford City Police were on scene doing the same.
Upon his arrival, Lewis called a second alarm, bringing the full companies from Derrick City and Bradford Township, as he could “see heavy brown smoke coming from all sides of the attic,” he said.
By 12:13 p.m., a large water supply had been established from the hydrant at the corner of Elm Street and lines were being pulled for an offensive attack.
While no firefighters reported injury, the fire caused a dangerous situation that prompted the crew inside the building to call for help at one point, according to Lewis.
As the fire raged in the attic and firefighters continued their attack, “We had a structural collapse on the third floor. The ceiling started to fall down on the attack team. Heat and smoke conditions required interior (team) to call a mayday.”
He said the mayday “was quickly resolved,” as the firefighters were able to get themselves out of the building. “At this time, all interior attack operations were discontinued and we went to a defensive attack.”
Meanwhile, other fire departments were put on stand-by. Derrick City and Lewis Run had crews on stand-by for Bradford City; Otto Township and Limestone, N.Y., were put on stand-by for Derrick City; and Lafayette Township was put on stand-by for Lewis Run. At 1:53 p.m., there was a special request made for a ladder truck to come to the scene from Salamanca, N.Y., said Lewis.
He said there were numerous collapses inside and outside the building during the blaze. When Salamanca arrived, the ladder was placed in aerial operations, working on hotspots in the roof, while Bradford City firefighters continued overhaul. Salamanca stayed until about 6:30 p.m., and Bradford City stayed until 7:41 p.m.
Lewis said that on scene there were 17 Bradford City firefighters, roughly 10 each from Bradford City and Derrick City and four or five from Salamanca.
State police fire marshal Cpl. Greg Agosti reported Wednesday night that the fire started in the third floor of the building and caused damage estimated at more than $200,000.
Price said she was out of the office at the time of the incident when she received a call from a staff member.
“Laurie Ludwig (staff member) said ‘Get over here quick, 8 Elm is on fire,’” Price said of her first notice of the blaze. “Fire has always been my biggest fear.”
According to Price, staff at the house told her they had smelled smoke on the third floor of the brick structure and immediately evacuated the residents who were home at the time. She said the third floor contained bedrooms and offices, and smoking is not permitted in the house.
“They got the folks out quickly. They did superbly,” Price said of the staff. “Everyone has been wonderful.”
Price said the residents were taken to the STEPS Drop-In-Center until further arrangements could be made for them. She said the agency hopes to keep all of the residents together in future housing, as they are like family with each other. Immediate plans are for the residents to be housed at a hotel in the community for a few nights, Price added.
“The worst part of this is that all of their belongings were destroyed,” she lamented.
The agency indicated online that it is accepting donations of any kind at STEPS at 62 Main St. and at Evergreen Elm’s office at 71 Main St. (PNC Bank), Suite 303.
The American Red Cross was also called in to assist, according to Lewis.
In commenting on the history of the house, built in 1901, Price said it was the first home to be owned by the Evergreen Elm agency when it was founded approximately 42 years ago. Price said 8 Elm had been slated to have had its roof replaced in the near future.
A bystander at the scene said the home was remodeled about a year-and-a-half ago.
Also at the scene was Donald Lindemuth, who was watching with his girlfriend, Kayla Gray. He explained that he walked up to see what was going on when he saw the smoke. They arrived to find the house fire. “It was a big, huge fire,” said Gray.
Likewise, bystander Erica Johnson said the fire “was really bad” when she arrived. “It was really, really flaming.” She and Gray said they were startled at one point when the building fell in.
Currently, Evergreen Elm has 11 homes in the community and serves approximately 110 individuals a year. All of the agency’s houses are regularly inspected by a fire and insurance inspectors, and residents and staff do routine fire drills as well as participate in fire safety classes.
The more-than-100-year-old home has historical significance in the community, too.
Bradford Landmark Society official Molly Lindahl said 8 Elm St. was featured in The Historic Homes of Bradford book published by the organization several years ago.
The original owner of the house was David H. Jack, a prominent lawyer in the community, who died in 1912 at the age of 56. The house was one of the larger private homes in the area at the time and had beautiful cherry woodwork and a large ballroom on the second floor.