HARVARD -- On the last day of their vacation, the Burns family received a call from a neighbor that their house was on fire.

The family of four found out about it the night it was happening, said Chris Burns, and the next day they flew home and "started to deal with it."

Her husband, Jim, grew up in the home at 50 Ayer Road, left damaged by a three-alarm fire that Harvard firefighters and seven other local departments responded to just after midnight on July 26.

The fire damaged the basement, first floor and the attic of the home, said Fire Chief Rick Sicard, but where it started has yet to be determined.

He said research into the cause of the fire is not completed, but it appears that it was unintentional.

Since the blaze, the Burnses and their children, Gwyneth, 17, and Harry, 9, have been trying to make do with what they have left.

Chris Burns said the house will either have to be taken down to the sill or gutted. This past week, the family has been meeting with insurance people and moving out everything they can from the house, she said.

"It's been a really awful week," she said.

But the support from the community, she said, has been overwhelming. The family stayed with a friend for a few days and is now looking into a long-term rental nearby.

Meanwhile, residents have started a web page to help the family, accessible at www.lotsahelpinghands.com/c/719090.


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Burns said the help has been amazing. "People just drop stuff by, stop and check in on us," she said.

Everybody wants to help, she said.

"At first it was just the shock of it, but every day we learn more about the process and we learn more about what we need," she said.

The fire department saved a lot of the family's belongings, Burns said. Her grandmother's paintings and photographs lined the walls and bureaus of the house, but only one picture and painting were wet.

Stephanie Opalka, who helped set up the website along with Kelly Fitzsimmons and Pattie Dalconzo, said people can visit the website to find out how to be a member of the community working with the Burns family. There is also a box at the General Store for the collection of gift cards.

"Community response in Harvard is phenomenal," Opalka said. "People want to help, people care. They're very giving and most appreciated by those of us who've had needs."

She said people have come together to donate.

"Pretty much everything we've asked for has been or is being met," she said.