MOHAWK – On February 14, a natural gas leak caused a house to explode in Little Falls, destroying three houses, blowing out windows hundreds of feet away and rocking the ground for blocks. Four people suffered injuries from smoke inhalation and minor burns, and the seven families living in the three houses lost everything.
The community, from Little Falls to Frankfort and beyond, has come together to plan a benefit for the families involved. Fire Aid 2018 Benefit happens Sunday, April 8, at 1 p.m. at the Mohawk American Legion.
The bands Showtime, Gridley Paige, Last Left and Grit n Grace are scheduled to provide entertainment, hundreds of prize baskets will be raffled off, kids will be able to have their picture taken with a Minion and there will be food aplenty, including cotton candy and snow cones, said Vikki Smithson, one of the benefits coordinators and the mother of explosion victim Richelle Devereese.
“Everyone has been so gracious,” Smithson said. “We’ve received so many donations. Justin (Smithson, Richelle’s brother) has had to turn bands away. Bands from as far away as Syracuse have offered their services. Justin said there were enough bands to make it a three-day event.”
Among the baskets to be raffled off are two special baskets slated to benefit not the explosion victims, but Pause 4 All Paws and the Herkimer Veterinary Associates.
“Initially, we thought they lost everything, including their cat Jag,” Smithson explained. “But then firefighters heard a faint meowing in the garage. They said, ‘We don’t want to get your hopes up but we found a cat.’ It was Jag.
“They rushed him to the vet, the Herkimer Veterinary Associates, and they’ve been just wonderful,” Smithson continued. “He lost parts of his ears, his whiskers burned off and patches of his fur, his pads were burned, but he’s doing well and he’s going to be just fine. We joke with him now that he used up about eight of his lives in that one.”
The fact that all people involved escaped serious harm, is one that still amazes Smithson, especially considering how close her daughter and son-in-law came to a very different outcome.
“When I saw the house afterward,” she said with tears in her voice. “They were minutes away from being home. Had it happened only a few minutes later, this would have been a very different story.”
Richelle and husband Shawn Devereese had decided to go to Lowe’s to purchase supplies for a kitchen project that afternoon. While they were out and heading to the west, they spur-of-the-moment decided to stop in at Richelle’s brother’s house to visit her young nephew. Then, at Lowe’s, the couple ran into Richelle’s father and stopped to chat for a few minutes. When their house exploded into flames, the couple was enroute, two short miles from home, in front of the Mohawk Valley Country Club on Route 5.
“These unexpected things kept happening and delaying them,” Smithson said. “I can’t help thinking of it as a miracle.”
While all involved are thankful no one suffered serious injury and no lives were lost, losing everything they owned is still a tough pill to swallow. The Devereese family picked through the rubble hoping to find something that had survived, but found nothing at all.
“It has been a real tough adjustment,” Smithson said. “It’s the simple things mostly. Like Jake’s blanket.”
The Devereese’s oldest son, Jake, is autistic, and had a special comfort blanket named “Strings.” Strings was lost in the fire.
“For the first few days, he would beg for his blanket, which was heartbreaking to us,” Smithson said. “They’re little. They’re trying to understand.”
Smithson said the family has been staying with both herself and Shawn Devereese’s parents while they figure out what to do next.
For more information on the benefit or to donate, visit the benefit’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/fireaid2018benefit, or call Smithson at 315-868-5960.