FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — New Year’s Day 2019 will forever be in Madeleine Wiles’ memory. She and dozens of other residents of the Four Winds Apartment Complex lost everything after a deadly crash sparked the massive fire.
“The accident happened under my apartment, I was on the second floor, so when I looked out the balcony I could see the smoke and the fire already coming up. I lost everything. Every single thing. Just walked out with my clothes on,” Wiles said.
Life has been hard ever since. After fourteen years living at Four Winds, Wiles was forced to live in a hotel for six weeks and is finally just beginning the process of putting her life back together.
The Fall River Firefighters Wives Association has been leading the community effort to support fire victims. They had hoped to collect enough money to give each family one thousand dollars, but they ended up raising more than four times their goal.
“We raised over $149,000 total, with gift cards and monetary donations,” Sharron Furtado, President of the Fall River Firefighters Wives Association said.
The group also collected clothing and other necessities for the more than eighty victims.
“I’m new to Fall River I didn’t really know that that’s what it’s like here. It was the complete difference between whether I was going to stay with my parents for months or live on my own place again or sleep on an air mattress or have my own bed,” Amber Cranston said.
“It’s a slow but sure process but everything’s gone well, everybody has been so fantastic helping all of us,” Agnes Martins said.
In a bittersweet moment Saturday, the group handed out the last of the money.
“We’re like family now,” Furtado said.
“They really saved us, our lives, really,” Wiles said.
“For me, it changed what my life was going to look like after this fire, and I’ll forever be appreciative of that,” Cranston said.