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Fire victim: “I didn’t think I had much, until I see what I am missing’

Sitting in the parsonage of the First Universalist Church of Southold, Peggy Richards, who lost her beloved home and everything she owns in a devastating Greenport fire last night, had tears in her eyes.

“It was devastating,” she said of the fire, which ripped through her home so quickly that she had time to grab only her cell phone and nothing else. Running outside in only a shirt, she had to borrow pants and flip flops from a neighbor.

“I didn’t think I had much, until I see how much I am missing,” she said.

Richards, 60, Kenneth MacAlpin, 51, and Victor Colon Jr., 43, all suffered only minor smoke inhalation, police said.

Still missing are dogs belonging to Richards and MacAlpin, including a border collie, Joyce, who is very close to MacAlpin. “She lets me know when my blood sugar goes low and when my post-traumatic stress syndrome is acting up,” he said.

The couple’s other dog, Bengor, a pitbull mix, is also still missing, as are three cats, Bella, a black calico, Roxy, a red tabby, and Tripod, a white cat with striped areas and a birth defect that makes it difficult to walk.

MacAlpin was so distraught over his missing dogs that he wanted to forego treatment at the hospital, Richards said. “I have to find my dogs,” he said.

Anyone who sees the missing pets is asked to contact the North Fork Animal Welfare League at 631-765-1811 ext 1.

Meanwhile, a community had come together to help the fire victims. Greenport Village Trustee David Murray was at the charred remains of the home this morning, surveying the still smoldering wreckage.

Murray said those wishing to donate clothes and other personal items can drop the off at Village Hall on Third Street, while monetary donations will be accepted at Community Action of Southold Town.

The three have been left homeless after the fire. Colon, Jr. has family in the area but MacAlpin and Richards have nowhere but the church where, exhausted, they tried to get some rest today.

“This is my place,” Richards said, adding that she’s found solace in the church since 2008. Looking around, Richards said she has a phone, but no charger, and is missing even the simplest items, such as a toothbrush.

The past years have not been easy for Richards, who has faced serious health concerns, and MacAlpin, who has PTSD and cancer. Financial issues have been a concern and now, they couple is left with nothing; Richards does not even have her laptop, which she needs to work. While her car survived the blaze, the keys are inside her gutted house.

2015_0219_greenport_fire_3Their home, Richards said, meant everything to her. She bought the house in 2000, at the age of 46, because she said she was tired of renting. “I swore I would never leave,” she said.

When MacAlpin saw the fire break out in the wall beside him in the computer room, Richards said, “He panicked, because he know how much this house meant to me.”

MacAlpin said he ran to the bathroom and began to start throwing water on the flames, to no avail. Richards tried desperately to extinguish the flames. “I went to work to try to put it out, until I got a lungful of smoke,” she said.

Surrounded by her children, Damian and Jaime Werthner, Richards said the outpouring from the community has touched her heart.

Neighbors have already brought boxes of food and clothing to the site of the fire and to the church.

Colon, who jumped barefoot out a second story window into the snow and safety after seeing “a wall of smoke” outside his bedroom door, says he is thankful to the neighbor who brought him socks and shoes. Wearing only sweats and a thermal shirt when he escaped, a friend let him borrow a warm sweatshirt and jacket. Adrenalin kept him from feeling the frigid temperatures last night, he said.

Despite his own terrifying experience, Colon spent the night awake on the streets of Greenport, searching for the cats and dogs, trying to help the friends he considers close as family.

The fire, he said, was fierce in the 100-year-old wood home, devouring the structure too quickly for them to even reach a large fire extinguisher on the first floor.

Colon said he lost his phone, his tablet, all his clothes, and all of his identification, which will make applying for food stamps and Medicaid difficult. A seasonal worker on fishing boats, Colon said the winter months are a struggle, and now, even more so. “But I don’t really care about the things,” he said. “I made it out of there alive. That’s all I really care about.”

He was in a sound sleep when the fire broke out, and the story could have had a grim ending, he added.

Neighbor Liz Glasgow, who lives two houses down, thanked the firefighters, two of whom were treated for smoke inhalation. “It was an inferno,” she said. “If it had been a windy night, this would have been a different story for all of us. But those firefighters were there for hours. They are heroes.”

To donate:

Monetary donations are being accepted at C.A.S.T., located at 311 Front Street, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until noon and 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.

Those donations can be made in cash, or in a check payable to C.A.S.T. Please write “Greenport Fire” in the memo section.

Donations can also be made on C.A.S.T.’s website, www.castsoutholdtown.org. Click on the “Greenport Fire” tab and then click the “donate” button on that page.

Clothing and other necessities are being accepted at Village Hall, located at 236 3rd Street, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.