Friends, neighbors quick to help when home explodes
Phil and Julie Megaffee are no strangers to tragedy. Last summer, Phil’s brother Pete was fatally injured in a motorcycle accident just down the road from his house.
And this past December, Julie’s father and Canandaigua’s beloved boat tour captain, Charles “Gray” Hoffman, passed away.
On Sunday, the Gorham couple’s quiet afternoon was interrupted by what sounded like a bomb going off, as a sudden explosion set their garage ablaze. Phil had been working in the garage at the time, trying to restore his brother’s motorcycle.
Phil, Julie, and their pair of West Highland terriers — Porter and Gertrude — escaped with only minor injuries, and much of the house remains livable. But the garage — which the couple used as a family room and the site for many family parties — was destroyed, along with two motorcycles, a tractor and many pieces of family memorabilia.
The stubborn fire persisted even after firefighters from Hopewell, Stanley and Gorham had extinguished the initial blaze, which reignited several hours later, requiring the house to be doused a second time.
When the flames finally subsided, the garage was barely standing. The structure was unsalvageable and debris was piled 2 feet thick on the concrete slab that had once served as the garage floor.
It was a daunting sight, the Megaffees recall. Unaided, it would have taken weeks and the expense of a contractor to clear the rubble, said Julie.
But within hours of the fire, the yard at 3410 Depew Road started to fill up with bicycles. One by one, the couple’s neighbors — many of whom the Megaffees don’t even know very well — began pedaling over to see what they could do to help.
They brought payloaders and trailers, skidders and a power-washer, shovels and brooms. At different times on Monday, there were as many as 20 men helping Phil clear the debris and wash down the area.
About 10 helpers still remained on Tuesday at noon. Their wives had helped out, too — by fueling the workers with home-baked goods and quenching their thirst with coffee and lemonade.
“I don’t even know how to explain it in words,” said Julie, in awe of the “outpouring of community support.”
Julie asked one neighbor how she could repay his help. “Just pass it on,” he replied, explaining that he had broken down in his truck once, and a kind stranger delivered him to where he needed to be. He always hoped he could offer such a service to someone else, he said.
“It leaves us speechless, that kindness,” said Julie.
Many of the Megaffees’ neighbors are members of the Mennonite community and make a regular practice of helping their neighbors. A group within the community owns a trailer and various pieces of equipment they can use to clear storm damage, make emergency roof repairs or otherwise assist their neighbors in trouble.
David Ringler and his sons James, 20, and Randall, 13, were among the workers on Tuesday. To them, the work was not a big deal.
“Out here in the rural communities, that’s what we do for our neighbors,” said Ringler. “It’s the way America should be.”
In addition to their neighbors, the Megaffees were quick to thank their other friends, family and co-workers for their help. Julie also extended her thanks to the three fire departments who responded on Sunday.
“They saved this house,” she said, adding that they didn’t break a single object inside it.
As soon as they can begin, the Megaffees hope to build a new garage.
“We’re so fortunate,” said Phil. “We love it here — we love this neighborhood.”
Contact Hilary Smith at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 343, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.