WALLINGFORD — A family of six, who lost three cats in a fire at their home Monday, said the outpouring of support they have received has helped.
Firefighters responded to 7 Huelstede Lane at about 6:15 a.m. and found the rear of the home engulfed in flames, according to Battalion Chief Kris Sundwall. It was extinguished in around an hour and a half.
After Douglas Papallo and his wife Jill got their four daughters out safely, he ran back inside to try to find their pets. He found their 20-year-old cat near the fire, got it out and then ran back to look for the other animals.
“By that time (the fire was) fully into the kitchen, I ran upstairs to look for the others,” he said. “The smoke was heavy up there, I put a wet washcloth over mouth and was yelling for the cats. Within 30 seconds to a minute the smoke was so black I couldn’t see a foot in front of me. My eyes were burning, I couldn’t breathe. I did one quick search, then headed back down and out.”
Douglas Papallo said the family’s dog was able to get out. After the fire was extinguished, they were able to find the three cats that were missing. All had died from smoke inhalation. He said it gave their daughters some closure.
“We’re extremely blessed, we have a ton of support rolling in from strangers,” Jill Papallo said Tuesday.
Jill Papallo said she woke and heard noises coming from the first floor, but thought it was the cats. As she was walking downstairs she heard the smoke alarm going off and saw flames. She called out to wake her husband, who tried to use a fire extinguisher, but it didn’t work. They also tried to use their outdoor hose, but the water was frozen in the line.
Jill Papallo said her father lives next door and their daughters, Jordyn, 17, Addyson, 11, Dyllan, 8 and Camryn, 6, went there while the fire was extinguished.
The fire appears to have started near a grill on the back deck, but the fire marshal is still investigating, Douglas Papallo said. He said the fire got so hot the propane tank exploded and shot flames up to 15 feet high over the back corner of the house, where the fire accelerated quickly.
He said they haven’t used the grill in recent weeks, but added that it has an electric starter. The propane tank was shut off and the grill was covered at the time. He is hoping to recover video from a security camera to help the fire marshal with his investigation.
“The show of support with everything going on, yesterday and this morning, is overwhelming,” Douglas Papallo said. “... It really has been helping us with the healing process. People have been fantastic. I can’t say enough about the love and support we’ve received.”
Douglas Papallo said school staff and friends he hasn’t spoken to in years have all reached out to offer help and support.
An adjuster estimated his family would be displaced for between 12 and 18 months. He said the fire damage to the rear of the home is extensive and there is smoke and water damage in a large portion of the rest of the home. He said their focus right now is to provide some sense of normalcy for their children and to help them grieve for their cats properly.
“We’ve got a long road ahead,” Douglas Papallo said. “We have each other. I’m glad everyone is safe. A house you can rebuild, people you can’t get back. That’s the lesson we’re teaching to the kids ... We’ll persevere.”