Christmas Eve Fire Makes 92-Year-Old Homeless
While most people were going to church or spending time with their families on Christmas Eve, 92-year-old Vernon Huntoon was battling a fire in his two-story townhouse that would end up destroying most of his belongings. The only thing that keeps this Christmas story from ending up a tragedy, however, is the kindness and generosity of Vernon's friends and community who have stepped up to help him make it through.
"I never knew I had so many friends,” the friendly Huntoon told us outside his Buttonwood condo on Wednesday afternoon, as members of the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department and CERT loaded what remained of his things into a U-Haul truck that was donated anonymously. Vernon's stuff will go into two storage units that the folks at Kelly Road Storage have generously donated for six months. Vernon himself will go to a condo in Bonita Springs.
"I'm going to stay there with my girlfriend, Eloise Suchy,” he said. "My friends George Lowrimore and Marcella Talley own it, but live near the Bell Tower Mall so they said I could stay there as long as I need to.”
Beach Fire Department Captain Ron Martin told us that could take as long as six months.
"Four units were damaged in this fire, which we think started in an exhaust fan in the bathroom of the unit adjacent to Vernon's,” he said. "It's being ruled accidental, and we think it was electrical.”
Martin told us that the call came in at 7:30am on Christmas Eve and that it took members of both the Beach and Iona/McGregor Fire Departments 25 minutes to put it out.
"Vernon's townhouse was the second and third floors of the building, and while we are able to salvage some stuff from the second floor, the third floor was totally destroyed,” Sportsman's Cove Condominium Association representative Bob Mullen told us.
Huntoon said he spent Christmas Day with his girlfriend.
"I'm not sure exactly how much I lost,” he said, before asking Mullen about a new television that had been located on the third floor. When Mullen shook his head, Vernon sighed. "Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. Well, at least now I don't have to drive to see Eloise.”
Mullen told us that the Kiwanis thrift store is helping Vernon to replace some of his things and that the Fifth Third Bank on Summerlin has set up an account for him so folks can make donations.
"He's lived here 20 years,” he said. "He's a really nice guy, and he's got a son in Michigan and a daughter in Margate, Florida.”
The Fifth Third Bank is located off Summerlin across from Ruby Tuesdays at 9000 Park Royal Drive. Donations can be made in the name of Vernon Huntoon, and the phone number is 239-482-1292.
Keri Hendry Weeg