By RUSSELL JONES
What should have been a memorable, fun trip to Hawaii was somewhat spoiled for a Brandon family this past week. Ken Backus and Brandi Whitney-Backus were on a trip with their children in the Aloha state when they got news that their home was on fire.
“My neighbor called Tuesday morning and said that there were flames pouring out of our house,” Backus said. “We were just at a loss for everything at the time.”
Just before 9 a.m. on July 2, the Brandon Fire Department responded to a fire in Forest Dale. They were met with a fully engulfed fire throughout the home. The fire was brought under control after about 45 minutes, but the home was declared a complete loss. Fire investigators later said they believed the fire might have started because of faulty wiring of an air conditioner in the back window of the home.
Backus and his family were in the islands courtesy of a Make-A-Wish campaign that helped finance their trip. Their 11-year-old daughter, Novalee, has spina bifida and has always wanted to see Hawaii.
The family was in the midst of spending a week in Hawaii, and had checked off several things on her to-do list — a visit to the aquarium, swimming with dolphins, and a tour on a submarine — when they learned of the fire.
But even before that news, their trip was marred with heartache as they learned that Brandi’s uncle passed away unexpectedly on Friday, June 28. Then, on Monday, one of Ken’s brothers in the Masonic Lodge passed away as well.
For Ken, whose grandfather and father served in World War II and Vietnam respectively, with all of that happening right before the Fourth of July, even a trip to the hallowed ground of Pearl Harbor wasn’t the occasion it should have been.
“I’m very patriotic,” Backus said, “but right now, it almost feels like there’s nothing to celebrate.”
As would be expected, Backus said the family didn’t really get to enjoy the trip the way they should have and then when they got home they had to begin the process of starting over.
“We’re going to clean up what we can outside, then wait for the insurance company to figure everything out,” Backus said of their doublewide trailer on 38 Newton Road. Brandi had lived in the trailer for the past 18 years, yet all that’s left is a charred husk.
Still, for Ken and Brandi, and their children Novalee, Ken Jr., Paige and William, they lost more than just their home.
Of their two dogs, only one made it out of the house and several cats are missing. Ken’s 250-gallon aquarium is gone, as are the 30 or so fish that lived in it.
“They said it’s $100,000 in damage, but that’s just the house,” the 38-year-old mechanic and logger said. “That doesn’t take into account any of the possessions.”
All of the family’s clothes, pictures and other possessions are destroyed. What the fire didn’t get, the smoke or water damage did, Backus said. All of Ken’s masonic keepsakes and hunting gear is gone, as are his tools for work.
At the moment the family is spread out between other family members homes and in a camper behind the burned-out shell of their old home. “We’ve been looking for a place to fill up the water tank,” Backus said. “But so far, we haven’t found one.”
Brandon selectboard chairman Seth Hopkins put out a plea to the community for assistance on Front Porch Forum.
“Ken and Brandi give generously to the community, assisting with local benefits, the Brandon Toy Project, the Masonic Lodge Christmas baskets, and giving of their time and substance to those in need,” Hopkins wrote. “Now they find themselves in need of help from our community.”
Backus said they could use clothes for both he and Brandi and the kids, whose ages range from 11 to 18. “All we have left is the clothes on our backs,” Backus said.
Friends have started a GoFundMe page for the family, www.gofundme.com/f/whitney-bakus-house-fire, which has so far raised almost $2,500 dollars. It will not replace everything the family has lost, but it is a start.
“Every little bit helps,” he said as he looked towards the charred remains of his family’s home.