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A Thanksgiving fire took everything from an Adams family. Now a community is giving back

Paul and Vanessa Mazzantini sit in living room

Paul and Vanessa Mazzantini field phone calls and work out their next steps at a neighbor’s house, the day after a fire destroyed their home at 16-18 Richmond St. in Adams on Thanksgiving Day.

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ADAMS — Despite the holiday, Thursday morning started out as usual for Paul and Vanessa Mazzantini. As the parents of 3-month old Lindley, they’ve developed a routine: wake up around 6 a.m. for a morning feeding and take their daughter to her grandparents’ house.

Vanessa Mazzantini stayed at home, catching a little more sleep before heading over to close family friends Steve and Paula Ziemlak’s house down the street. She texted her husband to meet her there.

The couple had only been settled in at the Ziemlak’s house for 18 minutes when a neighbor ran over with news: the Mazzantinis’ home was on fire.

When the Mazzantinis ran outside, around 9:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, their century-old home at 16-18 Richmond St. was in flames.

Smoke from the home filled the steep residential street, creating an unnatural haze on the otherwise sunny fall day. Smoke from the fire drifted across the town toward downtown where Adams Fire Chief John Pansecchi said he was driving around and noticed something was wrong.

fire destroyed house on Richmond St. in Adams

Heavily charred wood makes up most of what remains of the home at 16-18 Richmond St. in Adams after a fire quickly engulfed the multi-family residence on Thanksgiving morning.

Pansecchi said he saw the smoke around the same time the call came in of a fully involved fire on Richmond Street. He pulled up to the street just as dispatchers finished paging the Adams Fire Department.

Across the street neighbors were starting to take note.

Richard Barlow said his two Russian Blue cats, Ben Ben and Buster, started slinking around and acting strange. Barlow said he had just sat down with his breakfast when he looked around to see what we scaring the cats.

“I looked outside and said, ‘Ah, that’s wrong!’ and woke my wife up and got ready to leave if we had to,” Barlow said.

Barlow said he could feel the flames' heat standing on his front porch.

This video provided by Mark Jagiello shows smoke billowing up from a house fire at 17 Richmond St., as seen from Notch Road in Adams.

John Perez, who lives across the street, had chatted with the Mazzantinis as they made their way to their neighbors just moments before the fire. He said he had just parked his car in the garage and gone inside his house when he heard “a racket outside.”

By the time he walked to his front window, the fire had licked up the house’s front porch and to the second story.

The home, which the Mazzantinis had owned for a year and a half, was home to another couple — Jacob Hall and Marie Ellis. In July, the Mazzantinis renovated their portion of the unit in duplex and created an Airbnb space in the basement. The project was completed just a month before Lindley was born.

When the couple saw the flames coming from their home, Paul Mazzantini ran to the back of the building trying to make sure Hall and Ellis and a traveling nurse renting the Airbnb unit were out of the house. Vanessa Mazzantini said luckily everyone made it out safely and without injury.

For four hours, crews from the Adams Fire Department and four other local fire departments — North Adams, Cheshire, Dalton and Savoy — fought the fire.

man hold picture of house fire on cellphone

John Perez shows a picture that he took as fire crews fought to knock down a massive fire at 16-18 Richmond St. in Adams, directly across from Perez’s home on Thanksgiving morning.

Perez said they fought to get a good angle on the fire and had to use his porch and go through the attic window of the abandoned house next door to get enough water on the flames to put it out.

In the midst of the firefight, power lines hanging close to the home melted and spewed sparks over the street. Utility providers cut power to the street for several hours before fixing the impacted lines.

The house, once a double-spired landmark on the hill, is now a complete loss.

“It was really tough on us, on a firefighter or anybody, to see the devastation that a fire does,” Pansecchi said. “People have lost everything, especially on a holiday.”

Sitting in the Ziemlak's home Friday morning, Paul and Vanessa Mazzantini have made a makeshift command center for the outpouring of donations and phone calls that haven’t seemed to stop since the fire yesterday.

“There’s a few things that really bothered us that we lost, but everything else is replaceable,” Paul Mazzantini said. “We got very lucky.”

A network of support has mobilized around the families of Richmond Street. A local restaurant offered free pizza to the impacted residents and local support groups have been organizing regular dropoffs of supplies for the families.

Three online fundraising efforts made for the Mazzantinis and Hall and Ellis in the day since the fire have amassed more than $30,000 for the young family and $8,000 for the couple. The Mazzantinis said they’ve been in awe by the outpouring of support which has seemed to come from all over.

“It’s been so humbling all the support and everything I really can't put my finger on [anything] I think we need — I mean a lot of the baby stuff, but we'll just have to slowly gain that back pretty much,” Paul Mazzantini said.

The couple said help has come from all over. A mother and daughter walked across town to donate a baby coat and stuffed animal for their daughter and the Ziemlak’s dining room has become a kind of staging ground for all the other baby supplies that have been sent to the family.

Family members and friends have made space in their homes to offer the Mazzantinis and their tenants shelter and the couple said their Airbnb guest has found a place to stay at a local hotel.

On a day that cost them so much, the Mazzantini’s are trying to find the light.

When asked what they’ll tell their daughter about her first Thanksgiving, Paul Mazzantini said his wife has already joked: “Wait till you see what we do for Christmas.”

Meg Britton-Mehlisch can be reached at mbritton@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6149.

Pittsfield Reporter

Meg Britton-Mehlisch is the Pittsfield reporter for The Berkshire Eagle. Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, she previously worked at the Prior Lake American and its sister publications under the Southwest News Media umbrella in Savage, Minnesota.

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