AP NEWS

After Fire Displaced Them, Couple Looking Forward to Returning to Home

February 19, 2019

FITCHBURG -- It’s been more than two years since Mary and Solomon Sheffield have been home.

After a fire damaged most of their Payson Street house in 2016, they filed a claim with their insurance company and hired a contractor to rebuild their home. Now after waiting, they are expected to move back in April.

“A lot of people thought we would move away, but we love Fitchburg,” Solomon said Monday while sitting at the kitchen table of the couple’s River Street apartment. It’s one of several places they have lived while displaced from their home.

In December 2016, a fire broke out at 91 Payson St. while the couple and their daughter, Ciara Randolph, who was living with them, were away.

The couple was getting ready to move back into their second floor unit after repairs from a burst pipe at the beginning year were complete. Randolph already moved back to the first floor.

A firefighter and police officer rescued Nia, the Sheffield’s Pekingese, and Lady, Randolph’s Yorkie, from the fire. To this day, the couple don’t know who the rescuers were and to thank them.

Although the dogs weren’t hurt in the fire, both have to cope with the experience.

Lady hides under the bed when she hears a fire alarm, Randolph said.

For a while after the fire, Mary said Nia acted nervous and shook a lot.

For the Sheffields, it took nearly a year to settle the insurance claim and get the money to rebuild. Construction began at the end of 2017.

They say bad weather and contracting have contributed to delays to repair the house.

The Sheffields also weren’t experts with hiring contractors and knowing how to keep the project on track, they said.

“We learned the hard way and it’s been difficult for us,” Mary said.

They were supposed to move in before Thanksgiving. When the house wasn’t ready to host family members for dinner, they rented one in Waltham through Airbnb, Solomon said.

In addition to the burst pipe and 2016 fire, he said their garage caught fire from lightning during a thunderstorm.

“We haven’t had a lot of luck since this all started,” he said.

After getting help from the city at the end of the year, the project has been progressing. The electrical and plumbing work is done and next is to complete is the house’s drywall and insulation.

Before finding an apartment in Fitchburg, the couple lived in a hotel in Concord. Solomon works in town and Mary commutes to work in Boston.

The Sheffields lived at their Payson Street home for about a decade. They moved from Florida to Fitchburg to care for Mary’s parents in Boston.

Fitchburg seemed like a fit because it’s a smaller city and is up-and-coming, Solomon said.

Plus, housing is a lot cheaper than Boston, Mary added, and Fitchburg is a good location to travel to New Hampshire and New York.

While they wait for the house to be complete, the couple has continued to pay for their mortgage on top of rent for their apartment and storage for their belongings.

Their dog is living in Ashburnham with a caretaker because the Sheffield’s apartment doesn’t allow dogs. They visit Nia once a month and want to bring her home.

“All we can do is continue to pray we get in as soon as possible,” Mary said.

Follow Mina on Twitter @mlcorpuz