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Hole burned in soul of Scituate beachfront

Spiritual retreat for ailing, recovering among four homes destroyed

JONATHAN WIGGS/GLOBE STAFF

A day after a fire stoked by high winds destroyed four beachfront houses in Scituate, walkers observed the damage Friday. A charred book was found on the grounds of a sanctuary home.

SCITUATE - The house on Humarock Beach was the place where Isaac Shweky kept his memories, the place where his family raised a three-legged rescue dog and where his aging mother, now with stage four cancer, came to be with the family on the ocean.

Now all that is left are several charred walls and a pile of ashes.

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A Thursday fire on Humarock Beach destroyed four beachfront homes and caused an estimated $3 million in damages, Scituate officials said Friday. Yet, to the families who lived on the waterfront, the fire took more than that.

“The house had a soul, and the soul is gone,’’ Shweky said Friday morning as he surveyed the wreckage. “. . . It’s just gone, all gone. Thank God no one was in the home . . . but you have to start digging through memories. . . . There are things you can’t replace.’’

Scituate fire officials said the fire originated in a wall radio in a home two doors down from the Shwekys, at 111 Humarock Beach. It was the only house of the four that was occupied at the time of the fire. The owner, Mark Tarmey, heard the fire alarm from upstairs and ran into the kitchen to discover the blaze. After attempting to put it out, he gathered the family dog, Lucy, and ran out of the house.

High winds propelled the fire. and within minutes, all four houses were engulfed in flames. Fire crews from half a dozen towns responded to assist, and two hours later, the fires were under control.

No one was seriously injured. Four firefighters suffered minor injuries and were said to be doing well on Friday.

Among the houses destroyed was the site of Alice’s House, a spiritual retreat for cancer patients, recovering alcoholics, and others trying to come back from a crisis. Alice’s House has been a sanctuary home since 1997. It was named for Alice Feeney, who lived at the home for 40 years.

“It’s used all year round,’’ said Janet Gibson, the founder and president of Alice’s House. “I have people that use it, sometimes it’s used for a day, an afternoon, a weekend . . . Obviously they are not going to come [anymore]. It is what it is.’’

Gibson said that although no one was living in the house at the time of the fire, many antiques and books were lost in the blaze. Gibson was not sure if the group would rebuild.

Shweky, meanwhile, said he would “absolutely’’ rebuild. His wife, Jeanine Olschan, lived in the house full time and would commute back and forth to the family’s home in Connecticut. Olschan was traveling for business at the time of the fire.

Patricia Vinchesi, Scituate’s town administrator, said Friday that the town will secure the area around the burned-out homes to make sure no one enters the hazardous site. Emergency response officials, such as the Scituate Alliance for Natural Disaster Services, are working with the homeowners to assess the damages and consider next steps.

Susan Phippen, chairwoman of the alliance, said that process will take months.

“I’m sure there are a lot of insurance questions, and it’s tough to start all over, when you have nothing left,’’ she said. “It’s a horrible feeling. But the people in Scituate have always been very generous, and they will be in this case, as well. We tend to take care of our own.’’

By Friday, the group, which was formed December 2010 after a Christmas blizzard, had raised $1,000. The group is continuing to collect donations by mail and is sending out fund-raising messages through its Facebook page.

The group also helped provide food and supplies for the Tarmey family dog the day of the fire. The American Red Cross was on the scene the day of the fire, as well, and provided emergency food and clothing assistance for the Tarmey family.

“Frankly, the family was still very much in shock from the fire,’’ said Melissa Sieminski, a Red Cross team leader and Scituate resident. “When I spoke with [Dianne Tarmey], that house had burned down when she was a child. She’s been through this before, so it was bringing back some memories. But they were happy to see us.’’

Regardless of how the homeowners recover, Selectman Tony Vegnani said he was grateful things were not worse.

“I think the community is resilient,’’ Vegnani said. “The citizens are, and hearing people talk on the news, I think that they all love the town, want to stay in the town, and we’ll deal with this tragedy just like we did all the others.’’

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at Jessica.May.Bartlett@gmail. com. Follow her on Twitter @jessmayb3.
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