By Laura Hayes, Senior Community Reporter
NORTHBOROUGH – After a groundswell of support from the community following a deadly fire last month, one woman directly impacted by that fire wants to share her thanks.
“My heart is exploding with everybody’s donations and ‘What can we do,’ ‘If there’s anything I can do, call me’ — their help,” said Lisa Renaud.
Woman displaced by fire reflects on Northborough
Lisa, who grew up in Northborough, wore a pink scarf bearing the town’s name as she met with the Community Advocate late last month.
Growing up in Northborough was comfortable, she said.
“It’s homey and friendly,” she said. “If you say ‘hello’ to your neighbors, they say it back.”
She’s not scared to walk down the street, she said.
After moving out of town, she later came back, moving into an apartment on Maple Street after a divorce. She had lived there for the past five years prior to the fire that ripped through that home on Sept. 10.
“[I] don’t want to leave again,” Lisa said. “I love the town. My son loves the school system.”
The Northborough Public Schools have helped out, Lisa said.
Peaslee Elementary School gave the family gift certificates and Lisa said her son’s teachers at Melican Middle School have been a source of support.
“I can’t thank everybody in this area enough,” she said.
‘A smell you’ve never smelled before’
Lisa had got home to her apartment at 129 Maple St. around 10 p.m. the night before the fire after being with her sister. Lights were out in her home by 10:30 p.m.
Hours later, though, she heard her partner, Michael, say, “What’s that smell? Did you put your cigarette out?”
Lisa ran into the kitchen. There weren’t any cigarettes in the ashtray and she hadn’t smoked for hours.
She walked past their front door to the hall, she said, and smelled something.
“When I came back from the kitchen, I opened our front door and it was nothing but smoke and a smell you’ve never smelled before,” Lisa said.
In a loud voice, she said, “This isn’t just smoke. This is fire.”
Michael got her son out of the house. She banged on the door of her neighbor Kevin Hunt. Lisa tried his back door, which was unlocked.
“I turned the doorknob, and the door opened and it was just full of smoke,” Lisa said.
Other neighbors, such as Mike Pizzarella, later credited Lisa for waking them up in comments to the Community Advocate and other media outlets.
As Lisa described it, she wasn’t thinking. She was just acting.
“It’s like my body just did the stuff,” she said. “It knew what to do, and it did it. I think I haven’t come out of that mode yet. I’ve cried here and there, but I don’t think it’s really hit me, knowing that it was that serious that, if Michael didn’t wake up, none of us would be there.”
A car had driven by. The driver laid on their horn. Lisa said that, if they hadn’t already been awake, the horn would’ve woken them up.
Fire victim remembered, mourned
Firefighters responded and authorities later said that Hunt died in the fire. A father of two, he was remembered as “a gentle, thoughtful, and loving man who was kind to everyone he met” in his obituary.
Hunt, 40, was a hockey star in his youth and remained an active hockey and golf player into adulthood.
He worked in medical sales and was an “avid Boston sports fan.”
“Kevin’s true passion was his incredible love and devotion to his two children,” his obituary read. “They were the love of his life and he was theirs. He was a truly devoted and loving father to his children.”
Firefighter saves cat
A couple of hours after she escaped from the home, Lisa called her daughter, Alicia, saying her house was on fire.
“I said, ‘There’s really nothing you can do. You don’t need to come here because what are you going to do?’” Lisa recalled.
Alicia soon posted a call to action on a Facebook page for Northborough moms, though. The group members ran with it. Word spread quickly.
Donations were already being dropped off when Lisa talked to Alicia again at around 9:30 a.m.
“I’ve been overwhelmed because it’s still coming in,” Lisa later said.
Lisa thanked her daughters Alicia and Valerie, community members and members of both the Northborough Police Department and Northborough Fire Department. She particularly thanked a firefighter who saved her son Leelan’s cat.
Michael had saved Lisa’s cat but couldn’t find Leelan’s cat, Rosie.
“Leelan was beside himself,” Lisa said.
Hours went by. But, then, Michael gasped. That firefighter was carrying Rosie, alive. She had been hiding in a set of bunk beds.
Ways to help out
Lisa said any donations can be sent through Alicia’s Venmo @Alicia-Renaud.
Any gift cards can be sent to the Embassy Suites at 123 Boston Post Rd. West in Marlborough.