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Couple watches from afar as family home burns down

NEW IPSWICH: Hakalas were visiting family in South Carolina when first reports came; community response ‘overwhelming’

  • Richard and Debra Hakala of New Ipswich are settled into a temporary home with their grandson Nicholas Carlson, 19, left, while waiting on the rebuilding process after the burning of their home last week.

    Richard and Debra Hakala of New Ipswich are settled into a temporary home with their grandson Nicholas Carlson, 19, left, while waiting on the rebuilding process after the burning of their home last week. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Richard and Debra Hakala of New Ipswich are settled into a temporary home with their grandson Nicholas Carlson, 19, left, while waiting on the rebuilding process after the burning of their home last week.

    Richard and Debra Hakala of New Ipswich are settled into a temporary home with their grandson Nicholas Carlson, 19, left, while waiting on the rebuilding process after the burning of their home last week. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Richard and Debra Hakala of New Ipswich are settled into a temporary home with their grandson Nicholas Carlson, 19, left, while waiting on the rebuilding process after the burning of their home last week.
  • Richard and Debra Hakala of New Ipswich are settled into a temporary home with their grandson Nicholas Carlson, 19, left, while waiting on the rebuilding process after the burning of their home last week.

NEW IPSWICH — In the first week of January, Richard and Debra Hakala were in South Carolina to surprise their grandchildren with a post holiday visit. A few days later, though, the Hakalas’ trip took a horrific turn when they received news that their New Ipswich home was in the process of burning down. In the hours that followed, they received updates from family and friends, and they even saw a video of their family home ablaze.

The events started in New Ipswich in the early morning hours of Jan. 3, when their grandson, Nicholas Carlson, 19, was awoken from a deep sleep by the home’s smoke alarms, he said in an interview with the family Saturday. “I got up to check the wood stove,” recalled Carlson. “I didn’t see anything wrong until I got downstairs, and I saw the wall next to the kitchen was glowing.”

Carlson grabbed his phone and ran out of the house, calling his grandparents as he exited. When Richard Hakala answered and first heard the news that there was a fire, he didn’t think too much of it, he said. He just assumed that it was a matter of some cinders falling out of the grate and smoldering, he said. But by the time Carlson got out of the house, he could see flames coming out of the roof. That’s when he realized this was serious, said Hakala.

Once fire crews were dispatched, friends and neighbors gathered around the fire, and were in constant contact, said Hakala, sending him pictures and even video of the fire. At one point, said Hakala, it seemed like firefighters had the blaze knocked down, but the freezing temperatures were working against them, and the pumps kept freezing. When that happened, the fire found a new lease on life, and half an hour later, Hakala got news that the roof was gone.

It was a difficult thing to hear about the loss of their home from more than 900 miles away, said Hakala. “But it was probably a good thing I wasn’t there. I probably would have gotten hurt trying to put it out,” he said.

While the house is still standing, it’s gutted and not repairable, said Hakala. The house is insured, but it will take between two and four months for the insurance money to come through so that the family can start the process of rebuilding. Until that time, said Hakala, the family will be fine, in no small part thanks to an immediate and generous outpouring of support from the local community.

The fire occurred in the early hours of Friday morning. The community leapt into action, led by the Hakala’s son, Jeff, his son’s wife, Suzanne, their niece, Amy Reisert, and family friend Abby Ojala. By the time the Hakalas returned to the state on Tuesday, family and friends had arranged for them to occupy a condo close to their burned-out home, and had filled it with furniture and household items. Through a fund-raising website and a TD Bank fund, there had already been more than $15,000 raised for the family to replace clothing, linens and household items. The Hakalas, along with Carlson, who lives with them, were able to move into the condo without missing a beat, said Hakala.

“The Lord just placed everything right there,” he said. “So generous are people.”

It was especially a blessing, in that almost nothing from their previous home survived without fire, smoke or water damage, said Debra Hakala. The family was able to recover a few photographs that had been in a strongbox, though they too, had been saturated with water. Everything else was a loss, she said.

Most of the family’s physical needs have been met, said Hakala. “We’re still in need of prayer,” he said. “We want God’s guidance. He has a plan, and we want to execute it to his will, not my will.”

The Hakalas and Carlson will be staying in the condo until they have the opportunity to rebuild, said Hakala. That, too, is an area in which they have seen plenty of offers of assistance, he said. Several of his family members are in the construction trade, said Hakala, and have offered their services when its time to put up a new structure. Several local companies have offered to help as well.

“It’s overwhelming, all the love they’ve shown,” said Hakala. “It’s unbelievable. I’ve probably said that 100 times, and I’ll probably say it 100 more. I just want to say, Thank you,’ to everyone, from us. There are so many folks across the country that contributed. My head is still spinning. I also want to express our sincerity to the Fire [Department] and mutual aid.”

And despite the loss of their home and possessions, said Hakala, the important thing is that the people were all OK. Carlson was not injured, and Debra Hakala’s brother, Richard Keurulainen, who was also staying at the house, was out plowing when the fire happened.

“Of course, our big concern was for the safety of Nick [Carlson]. I would have been a basket case if anything happened to him. He’s OK, and that’s what’s important.”

Donations to aid the Hakala family can be sent to TD Bank for the Hakala Fire Fund, or made online at www.youcaring.com/help-a-neighbor/hakala-fire-fund/122420. For information about the family’s current needs, contact Suzanne Hakala at zanniehak@aol.com.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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