On the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 13, Rosemary Smedile went out to run an errand. While she was out, she got a call from her neighbor that would turn her life upside down.
Smedile, a North Andover town selectman, said she couldn’t believe what she heard.
“'Rosemary, your house is on fire,'” Smedile recalled the neighbor saying. “I said, 'Okay, could you please call 911?' And he said, 'We’ve been trying. We can’t get through.'”
Smedile's was one of dozens of homes that ignited in North Andover after a series of gas explosions rocked the Merrimack Valley. The fire at her home started in the basement. She said she raced back home only to watch her house burn for two hours before firefighting crews arrived.
More than a month later, Smedile stood inside her home. The smoke still filled the colonial-style property, and the soot was visible along the white walls. Smedile welled up with tears as she reflected on the more than 25 years she spent living there.
“[There's] lot of emotional attachment. I mean, this was done by my husband’s mother,” she said, pointing to a crooked picture with burnt edges hanging on the wall.
Smedile told WGBH News the interior of the house is a total loss. She is still waiting for her insurance company to estimate her financial loss.
“You have to buy everything. Every single thing," Smedile said. "Toothbrush, hairbrush, my shoes and clothes are all gone.”
It’s going to be at least a year before repairs can be completed. Smedile's homeowner’s insurance will cover the cost of a short-term rental, she said, adding that she considers herself lucky that she had coverage.
Thousands are still without heat or hot water as Columbia Gas crews work around the clock to restore natural gas service.
Meanwhile, Grogan’s Field, a baseball field in North Andover, has been transformed into a mobile home park for 60 families as the weather gets colder. Andrew Maylor, North Andover's town manager, said each trailer can accommodate up to eight people. He estimated that more than 100 families in the town will use the trailers or other temporary housing. He said the town has an additional 20 mobile homes on standby and access to additional hotel rooms.
“I think as it becomes multiple days over the next week or so and we are steadily in the 30s in the evening — that’s not something that can be sustained in a safe way,” Maylor said.
He said aside from keeping residents out of the cold, responding to the fallout from the gas explosions has become all-consuming.
Smedile said some good has come from a situation despite the emotional toll it's taken on her.
“I have not cried about my house,” Smedile said. “I’ve cried about how good people were,” referring to first-responders, neighbors and friends in the community.
Because, Smedile said, material things can ultimately be replaced.