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Coming home: Greenfield woman returns to apartment destroyed by fire a year ago

Recorder/Paul Franz
Christine Ardito moved back into her old apartment at 23 Franklin St. after the building was renovated due to a fire one year ago.

Recorder/Paul Franz Christine Ardito moved back into her old apartment at 23 Franklin St. after the building was renovated due to a fire one year ago.

GREENFIELD — One year ago today, the residents of 23 Franklin St. picked their belongings from the wreckage that flew as firefighters tried to save their home the night before.

“It was tough that morning, as we shoveled through the debris,” said Christine Ardito. “I’ll never forget the smell. It was acrid.”

Unlike the aroma that wafts from wood stoves or campfires, the stench of a structure fire is one of burnt siding, blistering paint, fried wiring, and dreams going up in smoke.

Ardito, 43, had lived in town since she moved from Tyngsboro in October of 2008. On a quiet street a short walk from downtown, Ardito found the comfort and convenience she sought when she found her first and favorite apartment in town, at 23 Franklin.

The fire started on an upstairs porch, on the other side of the house, by a still-burning cigarette in an ashtray. The building’s attic and upstairs apartments bore the brunt of the fire damage; Ardito’s and other downstairs apartments saw mostly water damage.

Though her belongings weren’t scorched, Ardito’s soaked furniture was a loss, as well as many of her clothes.

“It’s just stuff, though. The important thing is that nobody was hurt,” she said Thursday.

The belongings most near and dear to her were salvaged.

“I’m so happy my paintings were saved,” she said. Firefighters took the time to gather some of the residents’ things, and put them under a tarp to protect them from water and debris.

“They deserve special thanks,” said Ardito.

Those paintings were made by her ex-husband’s grandmother and aunt, and Ardito’s son and daughter.

One 15-year upstairs resident lost most of her belongings.

“She was really emotional the night of the fire,” said Ardito. “Her apartment got the worst of the flames. She lost a lot of pictures and other things with sentimental value” in addition to other belongings.

The building’s six residents found themselves homeless that night. Some found their own accommodations, others got some outside assistance.

“The Red Cross came at about 2 a.m.,” said Ardito. The organization began taking lists of residents’ needs, and set Ardito and another tenant up with temporary motel rooms in town.

She stayed a couple of nights, then set out “couch surfing.” Ardito said her friends were very supportive and helpful.

Before long, she had a new apartment.

“Joe Rugerri set me up with a Congress Street studio apartment within days,” Ardito said, thanking the local real estate agent. “He even got me dishes and everything.”

She stayed there for about six months, until she found a two-bedroom, where she could stretch out a bit.

It was a place to lie her head and keep her things, but Ardito said she never felt like it was her own.

“I never even hung anything on the walls,” she said. “Those apartments didn’t feel like home, not at all.”

The town, however, did feel like home, and she wanted to stay.

“I lived most of my live in eastern Mass.,” she said. “I really like Greenfield. It’s laid back, not so ‘rush-rush.’ It’s liberal, and the people are easy going.”

While her old building was being gutted and rebuilt, Ardito’s travels took her by the apartment from time to time, and she passed with a twinge of heartache. Her friends, however, were quick to comfort her.

Franklin Street was her home, though she initially had no plans to move back to the apartment.

“I thought it would take years to rebuild,” she said. In actuality, it took about 10 months.

Through the right turn of events, however, she found herself back in her old place.

Ardito works at the Arbors, as a licensed nurse’s assistant. About a month ago, an Arbors resident mentioned that she was moving into the building, and that the very apartment Ardito left a year ago was for-rent.

The apartment had already been promised to another woman, and her deposit taken, but the deal fell through at the last minute.

When she first returned, the apartment was empty and still being painted, but that didn’t matter.

“I walked in, and it was like my apartment said ‘welcome home’,” Ardito recalled. “I had missed it. There’s something about this apartment. I’ve done a lot of spiritual growth here.”

The modest one-bedroom is brightly lit with the southern sun, Ardito’s art is back on the walls, and her Bible and rosary sit on her sunny little screened-in porch.

The last two items came in handy during her “year from hell,” as she called it. Though she doesn’t consider herself particularly religious, Ardito said she’s very spiritual, and sought solace in prayer and faith while she was in transition.

She’s more than happy to be back home, though the place is a little different.

“I miss some of the old, antique stuff that was replaced,” she said. The house, built in 1875 according to town records, had horsehair plaster walls, and old hardwood floors.

In addition to new wood floors, windows and modern appliances, the building has also received several safety upgrades.

“We’ve put in a sprinkler system, and the fire alarms are hard-wired to the Fire Department,” said Nathan Wade, property manager and son of landlord Dennis Wade.

These code-required upgrades, as well as Ardito’s newly purchased renter’s insurance, helps her sleep well at night.

Wade said nearly all of the apartment’s old tenants are now living in buildings owned by his father, though Ardito is the only one that has returned to 23 Franklin St.

Wade said that insurance covered all repairs to the building, less the policy’s deductible. In addition to the repairs and safety upgrades, new energy-efficient windows, furnaces, and insulation have been installed, cutting back on energy costs for tenants, who pay their own utilities.

Ardito thanked the Wades for their dedication to their tenants. She’s also grateful for everyone who donated to the Franklin Street Fire Fund, which she said gave the displaced tenants some much-needed assistance.

Now that she’s back home, she doesn’t plan on going anywhere.

“I hope I stay here for a long time,” she said with a smile.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

I'd like to clarify some items in this article that are incorrect. My mother, Kathleen Cole, was the upstairs resident mentioned in the article. She lived at 23 Franlin Street for 25 years, not 15. Her apartment was next door to where the fire began. Her apartment was a TOTAL lost, including the attic where we stored years worth of belongings and was the only apartment that had access to this space. Her apartment was totally destroyed not only by fire and smoke, but also by severe water damage, literally puddles ankle high. Outside of a small load of smoke damaged clothing in a laundry basket and medications that the GFLD Fire Department brought out to her, the clothes and sneakers she put on as she was fleeing her house and her purse, my mother lost EVERYTHING. It's wonderful that the other residents were able to have had their belongings that they treasured saved with the help of the fire department. My mother did not have that luxury. Everything from my childhood, photographs dating back to her great-grandparents, things she had purchased as a teenager on a trip to Paris, France -- All gone and irreplacable. Not to mention her clothing, furniture, and everything else you take for granted in your home. My mother was very stoic that evening, hardly "very emotional" as stated in the Recorder today.

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