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Generosity overwhelms Wittmans PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chris Lee   

After losing nearly all of their possessions in a fire at their home Tuesday, March 8, the Rich and Yolanda Wittman family has been completely overwhelmed with the support they have received from Holyoke and its citizens.

“We live in a very, very good community,” Yolanda said. “We knew we lived in a good community, and we love it here.” “It’s an awesome place to live,” Rich added.

All of their family possessions were lost in a fire that severely damaged the entire inside of their home—and the house was only vacant for 45 minutes.

In addition to their home and possessions, the Wittmans’ friend and family member Tiny, a 4-year-old Chihuahua, was lost in the fire.

Support immediately began pouring in. Yolanda’s sister and her husband, Estella and Oscar Dominguez, provided the family with a place to stay.

Having only the clothes on their backs at the time of the fire, they needed clothing. Holyoke stepped up to provide meals, gift cards and money. “It’s just amazing,” Yolanda said. “I can’t even say it enough.”

Rich said the support chokes him up more than losing the house. They have even received gifts from people they don’t even know.


Fire makes total loss of interior of home

On that cold and snowy Tuesday morning, Rich left early for work, son Matt went to school at 8 a.m. and Yolanda left to walk at 8:10 a.m. Usually Yolanda walks along the streets of Holyoke with the family’s dog, Tiny. But on the colder morning, Tiny stayed home while Yolanda went to the school to walk on the indoor track.

Forty minutes and two miles later, Yolanda returned home to find the window on their door noticeably darker. Looking closer, she could see smoke seeping out from above the door.

Across the street, Yolanda could hear the sound of metal scraping along cement. Neighbor Eldon McCormick was scooping snow, so she yelled for him to call 911.

After he called, Eldon tried to go in and look for Tiny but the smoke was too much.

Rich, who is employed by the City of Holyoke, responded with Holyoke’s electric crew. But he was told to stay back as another worker went to disconnect the power from the house.

Rich kicked the front door in, took a deep breath and went in. He knew the layout well and counted his steps to where Tiny’s bed was located. He said he got low enough to the floor to see the dog’s bed, but she wasn’t there. He knew he couldn’t last much longer so he got out.

Unfortunately, the fire department found Tiny dead in a bathroom—a room she never goes in, according to Rich.

Incredibly, the house was built well enough that it didn’t allow oxygen in to ignite the fire to cause a complete structure fire. By the time everyone arrived, the fire had put itself out due to lack of oxygen. Holyoke Volunteer Fire Department applied approximately 20 gallons of water, according to Rich.

The inner two panes of the three-paned windows were all broken, and cracks began to form in the outer pane. Had a window broken, the entire house would’ve gone up in flames.

Some photographs and jewelry were all that could be salvaged, according to the Wittmans. Rich is waiting for a gunsmith to look at his gun collection to see if they can be cleaned and repaired.

“Everything is black,” Yolanda said. She said the microwave door is melted along with light fixtures, ceiling fans and wallpaper. Rich said the temperature probably got to around 2,000 degrees which caused about 80 percent of the damage. “If it wasn’t covered with smoke, it melted,” Rich said.

The fire was concentrated around a love seat and two end tables in the living room, according to Rich. The area is about 10 feet in diameter, so the fire itself wasn’t all that big. “For no bigger than the fire was, the heat and smoke damage is just horrendous,” Rich continued. Yolanda said televisions in other rooms even melted.

The fire is believed to have been started by a faulty extension cord. Yolanda said it only had a phone and a lamp plugged into it.

Yolanda’s flowers inside were instantly killed by the heat. One plant they have had for years brought a little laughter to the couple when thinking about it. Rich said he would pull out his pocket knife or tin snips and give it a haircut every now and then. Six months later he would have to do it again because it grew so fast.

Looking at what has happened over the past few weeks, the Wittmans have been overwhelmed with the amount of support. They said it’s hard to think about what to do next. They had a meeting toward the end of last week to set up a more permanent living arrangement and will look ahead with their heads held high.

“We want to thank so many people,” Yolanda said. “They just did it without even stopping to think.”

When asked what the family needs, both Rich and Yolanda said, “prayers.” “You don’t realize what nothing is until you go through this and you have nothing,” Rich said.

Even though the Wittmans said they feel they have received enough and only want prayers, generous friends and family have set up an account at Holyoke Community Federal Credit Union.