Strafford rallies to help family following fatal fire

Kerri Rainville's mother died in a fire at their Rogers Road home Thursday morning in Strafford, Vt., shown on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. The fire was reported at 8:13 a.m. Thursday morning and was already engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Kerri Rainville's mother died in a fire at their Rogers Road home Thursday morning in Strafford, Vt., shown on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. The fire was reported at 8:13 a.m. Thursday morning and was already engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

Artificial flowers and ribbons hang on a tree near the home of Kerri Rainville in Strafford, Vt., on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. Rainville's mother died in the fire. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Artificial flowers and ribbons hang on a tree near the home of Kerri Rainville in Strafford, Vt., on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. Rainville's mother died in the fire. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-16-2024 9:01 PM

Modified: 02-17-2024 5:52 AM


STRAFFORD — Neighbors, friends, coworkers and anonymous contributors rushed to help a Strafford resident hours after her home burned down early on Thursday morning in a house fire the claimed the life of the resident’s mother. It was the second time in six months the tight-knit small town mobilized to aid a community member in crisis.

Clothes, money and offers of a place to live quickly poured in for Kerri Rainville, the nurse at the Newton School in South Strafford whose home on Rogers Road where she lived with her school-age daughter and mother was fully engulfed by the time fire crews arrived at the scene, deep on a back country road. The home — and all its contents — were lost in the flames.

Rainville’s 77-year-old mother died in the fire, according to a post on the Newton School’s Facebook page on Friday afternoon.

“This is what our town does so well,” Sarah Root, Rainville’s neighbor on Rogers Road, said about the community’s quick rally of support for “Nurse Kerri,” as she is known to parents whose children attend the Newton School. “No question about that.”

By Friday, Newton School Principal Tracy Thompson posted on the school’s Facebook page that accommodations for Rainville and her daughter have already been secured “for the next few months.”

Root was at home on Friday morning waiting for the arrival of Shannon Varley, who — within hours of the fire — had collected 20 bags of clothing donated by members of Varley’s exercise spin class for Rainville and her daughter.

“We’re going to spread things out,” Root said, pointing to her living room furniture. “It will look like a clothing store in here.”

The fire that destroyed Rainville’s home is the second time recently that town residents coordinated with each other to come to the aid of a community member in dire need of help.

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In September, South Strafford resident Sue Coburn calmed an agitated 37-year- old man who had shown up at her family’s general store one morning to report that he had just burned down the cabin in which he lived on Taylor Valley Road, explaining, “I need help.”

The man, who has been charged with arson, had been known to neighbors and others in town who would regularly bring him food and check in on his welfare at the cabin before he complained about “zombies” in the woods and set his cabin ablaze.

Root said she walked downstairs at around 8:15 a.m. on Thursday and looked out her door windows and saw through the treeline Rainville’s home a few hundred yards away consumed in fire.

“I came down the stairs, and all I could see was flames. It was horrible. I called 9-1-1 and then I called Kerri at school and said, ‘You have to get here. Your house is on fire,’ ” said Root, who serves as chair of the Newton School Board.

Rainville’s dog, a 10-year-old rescue named Franny, escaped when Rainville’s sister, Kristen — who lives on the same road — managed to open the door to the burning house. Also successful in getting out were Rainville’s three cats, one of which had been recovered and the other two which are believed to have survived but are still at large, Root said.

“The number of people who have provided support and comfort for Kerri is truly unbelievable, and she was brought to tears by all of your efforts,” Thompson wrote in the school’s Facebook post.

On Friday morning, as a Green Mountain Power work crew showed up to cut the power line to Rainville’s house, all that remained were the bent remains of a metal seam roof crumbled on top of the house’s foundation and draped by several inches of fresh snow that had fallen overnight, softly covering the scene in an eerie calm.

Before midnight struck on Thursday, Varley had led an effort to set up a GoFundMe page for Rainville, which by late afternoon the next day had already raised more than $6,000 in an effort to supplement the main support effort being coordinated by The Newton School.

“We’re hoping to raise $50,000, but whatever we can do, we’re going to do,” said Varley, whose own family lost their home in a fire 10 years ago.

Rainville and her daughter are temporarily staying at a White River Junction hotel, Root said, which is being paid for by the school.

Root said that by Friday morning, she had been contacted by at least 10 people offering to provide accommodation or rent a place for the mother and daughter to stay.

“What I want is to get them to a place they can call home for awhile. I think we’ll get there,” Root said.

Within hours of Root making that statement, Newton School’s Thompson announced a place for Rainville and her daughter had been secured.

Root said that fire investigators at the scene told her their initial investigation indicates the fire originated with the furnace because that is where the “hot spot” has been identified.

Adam Silverman, a spokesman with the Vermont State Police, said via email on Friday that the investigation into the cause of the fire is continuing and no determinations have been made. Investigators are scheduled to return to the scene on Tuesday.

He also said officials can’t confirm the identity of the fire’s victim until the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office completes its work.

Rainville joined The Newton School, where her daughter is a student, about five years ago, according to the school’s website. She graduated from Hampshire College, where she studied climatology and earth sciences and traveled and studied in research programs across North America. She subsequently went on to study and graduate from the nursing program at Southern Vermont College.

In addition to the GoFundMe campaign, Thompson said that people who want to help Rainville can make cash or check donations made out in her name, which can be dropped in the red mailbox under the portico at the Newton School or at Coburn’s Store.

She also said gift cards to Hannaford, the Hanover Co-op, Maplefields, Target, gas cards or any local restaurant would also be welcomed.

Anyone with questions about how to help Rainville can contact Thompson at tthompson@wrvsu.org or Tunbridge resident Eleni Howe at ehowe@wrvsu.org.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.