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Community responds with 'overwhelming' support after Westmont family loses home to fire

Published: Friday, Oct. 11, 2013 12:32 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 25, 2014 4:51 a.m. CDT
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Sarah Minor - sminor@shawmedia.com Michael, Susan and Shannon Finegan with their dog in front of their house that burned down Sept. 15.
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Sarah Minor - sminor@shawmedia.com Susan Finegan picks tomatos from plants alongside her home that burned down on Sept. 15.
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Sarah Minor - sminor@shawmedia.com Susan Finegan surveys the damage to her family's home.

WESTMONT – After watching their house burn down last month, the Finegan family was left with an empty feeling.

The family – Michael and Susan, their 15-year-old daughter Shannon, and dog, Buddy – evacuated the home in the 1400 block of Williams Street safely after it caught fire, but all was lost, including the structure of the home.

“My daughter had a sleep over ... and I lit the fire pit for them so they could toast marshmallows,” Susan Finegan recalled. “I thought it was out but I didn’t douse water on it.”

Susan said she woke to the sound of the smoke detector at about 1:30 a.m. on Sept. 15.

“I thought Shannon was making brownies because every time she or I cook, the smoke detector goes off, but I looked out the window and my etable, deck and siding were on fire.”

But a tough time has been made a little less difficult for the Finegan family thanks to the Westmont community they’ve called home for 12 years.

The help started pouring in just minutes after the family realized they had lost their home.

“[Westmont Fire Chief Dave Weiss] gave us an envelope and in there was a pamphlet of what to do after the fire is out and also, courtesy of the Westmont Fire Department, were two coupons to stay in a hotel for two nights,” Michael Finegan recalled.

Soon after, neighbors started bringing the family sweatpants and jackets to keep warm on the fall-like night while they figured out their next step.

A collection of $600 cash and a basket packed with toothbrushes, socks, deodorant, soap, shampoo and other essentials followed, as well. Neighbors Pam and Frank Gonzalez put the basket and donations together with help from the entire community, according to Pam Gonzalez.

Pam Gonzalez said she asked a few neighbors for help while two neighborhood boys went around collecting donations.

“I told everyone on Facebook and help just start pouring in,” she said. “We’re a very close community and if you could have seen the devastation, we just wanted to to do as much as we could.”

Gonzalez, a Westmont resident for 23 years, said she awoke to Susan’s screams the night of the fire.

“To see someone this close have something that tragic happen,” Gonzalez said. “We were just all grateful they’re alive.”

“We’re not really familiar with all of our neighbors, besides a few,” Michael Finegan added. “But strangers literally came up with money for us. It was phenomenal.”

Another neighbor handed them a $250 Visa gift certificate.

Dawn Andrews, a family friend and neighbor, said they were just thankful the family made it out of the fire.

“It could happen to any of us,” said Andrews, who has lived in Westmont for 18 years. “We just wanted to help them as much as we can and we’ll be there for them if they need anything. I know they would be there for me and our family would do anything for them... We’re just glad they’re safe.”

The Finegan family ended up staying four nights with family members before another neighbor approached them, letting them know a house directly across the street from their lost home was available for rent.

As Michael put it, the family has been “blown away” by the support.

“To have this overwhelming sense of support and community has just blown us away – it’s emotional,” he said.

The family has been getting odds and ends together over the past month since they lost their house. They estimate it will be eight months to a year before their home is rebuilt.

“They have to take it all the way down to the foundation and then rebuild it back up,” Susan said. “It is rotten to lose a house and we’ll miss our stuff but learning to live with less isn’t so bad.”

“We just wanted to thank everyone,” she added. “People still stop and ask if we’re alright and you just don’t know what to say. Everyone has been really kind to us and it really is touching.”

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