Community raises over $22K to aid those affected by fatal West Hartford fire

A fire engine leaves for a call from West Hartford Fire Station No. 1 in West Hartford, Conn., on Thursday Jan. 7, 2020.

WEST HARTFORD — When a blaze broke out at a home Saturday resulting in one death, members of the community sprung to action soon after.

Local resident Eric Bergenn didn’t personally know those affected, but he wanted to help. So, he worked with Friends of Feeney — a non-profit aimed to assist people who have been through a tragedy — to start a Facebook fundraiser following the Saturday fire.

Bergenn lives nearby and has passed by the home before — while riding his bike, or driving to get groceries — and he said Monday, “it felt really close to home even though I don’t know them.”

“And I felt like it wasn’t enough for people just to feel bad and say kind words, I just thought that it was kind of necessary for the community to do something and I just felt like everyone would, so I should try to organize something,” Bergenn said.

The fire department has identified Holly Baron, 60, as the person who died in the blaze.

Officials expect to continue investigating the incident “in the coming weeks as we responsibly collect all the relevant data for an accurate report,” the fire department’s press release read.

Three people evacuated the home after the fire’s onset, and the Red Cross has “offered services” to those affected, according to the release.

Bergenn said he started the fundraiser Sunday morning. As of Tuesday afternoon, 370 people had contributed to it, raising over $22,000 for expenses.

“It’s been going incredibly well, the amount of support that we’re receiving from the community is honestly a little overwhelming,” he said Monday. “It’s wonderful to see everyone work together to try to help a neighbor out, it’s really, it’s really something else.”

Bergenn said Monday that initial fundraising goals on Facebook were for $10,000 and later $15,000, both of which were surpassed. The goal was then set at $20,000, which was met, and as of Tuesday afternoon the most recent goal was listed at $25,000.

After he saw a story about the fire, Bergenn said he wanted to help, but he didn’t know exactly how to approach it, so he reached Eric Feeney, a teacher in West Hartford Public Schools who established the Friends of Feeney organization.

Bergenn said doing something to help was already on Feeney’s mind too. Feeney agreed to help “make sure that 100 percent of any funds that were raised” ended up going to the people who were affected.

Feeney said the home was in an area he referred to as “my universe, my bubble” — a part of town where he walks his dog and delivered work to students during the pandemic.

“It was just unreal and heartbreaking to see,” Feeney said about walking past the home after the fire.

Feeney said Monday that Friends of Feeney had initially donated $2,000 toward the cause, and the money from a weekend can drive — in which cans and bottles were collected to be given to the West Hartford Redemption Center in exchange for money — would also be donated in the fundraiser. People also have the option of donating through Friends of Feeney’s PayPal and Venmo accounts as well, he said.

Feeney and Bergenn have been encouraged by the response they’ve seen from the community. For Bergenn, the number of people who were donating particularly stood out.

“The sheer numbers of people involved is really what, what to me is the most kind of moving part of it,” Bergenn said.

Connecticut Media Group