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In Pomfret, an Outpouring of Help

Sugarhouse Fire Prompts Donations

Pomfret — When Duane and Ruthie Harrington returned to their Pomfret Road home Thursday afternoon, they saw their sugarhouse destroyed, and with it, their livelihood.

But within hours of losing their sugarhouse in a fire, the community was stepping up to lend a hand to the longtime Pomfret residents.

“We’re a pretty tightknit community here and if our friends get in trouble, we all jump in feet first to help,” said Ona Chase, of North Pomfret, who set up a jar for donations at Pomfret’s Teago General Store.

The local fundraiser, together with an online effort started by a family member, generated nearly $2,500 in donations from friends and neighbors by Friday afternoon.

It was soon after noon on Thursday that firefighters responded to the Harringtons’ address at 8350 Pomfret Road. They arrived in time to prevent the fire from spreading to the house, although the sugarhouse and attached garage had already been consumed by the flames.

“There’s nothing that’s salvageable,” Jodi Harrington, Duane and Ruthie’s daughter-in-law, said. “There was a Kubota Tractor, excavator, a reverse-osmosis machine, stainless steel pans, and $6,000 to $8,000 worth of maple syrup.”

The cause of the fire has not been determined, though a heater in the sugarhouse may have been the source of the blaze.

Duane Harrington, now 70, typically makes between 3,000 and 4,000 gallons of maple syrup a year. He leases most of his sugarbush from other landowners, using his own equipment to boil the sap and make maple syrup.

He worked in his Pomfret sugarhouse for 20 years, not counting the years he sugared elsewhere, Jodi Harrington said.

On Friday, Duane and Ruthie Harrington did not want to talk about their misfortune.

“They’re just devastated,” Chase said. “It was their main source of income.”

And while the damage was extensive, the extent of the losses remains uncertain.

Todd Harrington, Duane Harrington’s nephew, estimated the value of the equipment, supplies and stock lost at between $50,000 and $60,000, noting the couple also lost $7,000 worth of supplies they had recently purchased for the upcoming sugaring season. Jodi Harrington ventured that the loss could run as high as $150,000.

“It was a really, really sad loss. It was their livelihood. Nothing was insured,” said Todd Harrington, who grew up in Pomfret.

When he heard the news Thursday afternoon, the self-described tech- and Facebook-savvy member of the family, he started a fundraising campaign on the website gofundme.com.

Donations surpassed the original goal of $1,000 in the first eight hours. Todd Harrington then raised the goal to $5,000 and by 6 p.m. on Friday, the total had reached $2,085.

The contributions, Harrington said, have come from “a little bit of everybody.

“Any little bit helps,” he added. “I’ll be very excited if we could get $5,000. Ideally, they could use $20,000 to get on their feet.”

Chase, the Harringtons’ neighbor who has also worked at the Teago General Store, knew she was going to do something to help as soon she saw the fire trucks in the Harrington’s driveway.

“I went home and posted on Facebook,” she said.

Friday morning, Chase set a jar on the counter of the store, which she plans to leave there through next week.

The response from people willing to chip in money was immediate and generous. Within hours, the jar was stuffed with more than $300, she said.

“We emptied the jar out earlier today — people were putting hundred dollar bills in it,” store owner Chuck Gundersen told the Valley News Friday. “Now it’s filling back up again. Everyone has heard about the fire.”

For now, Duane and Ruthie Harrington plan on rebuilding, according to their family members, though how soon remains unclear. With sugaring season just around the corner, time is short.

“It’s so early, we’re just helping them recoup,” Jodi Harrington said. “Once we can start the cleanup, we can start talking about whether we could rebuild for this year.”