Goshen man recounts family’s harrowing escape from burning home

  • Fire destroyed the home of Phillip and Jessica Judd at 164 Berkshire Trail West (Route 9) in Goshen Friday night into Saturday. FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

For the Gazette
Published: 1/28/2019 11:36:58 PM

GOSHEN — After turning in for the night on Friday, Phil Judd heard a strange voice coming from downstairs. When he went to investigate, he was shocked to discover flames in his dining room and his talking smoke alarm alerting the family to danger.

Judd, his wife Jessica, and their four sons, ages 9, 7, 4 and 2, all escaped only minutes before the house was fully engulfed in flames that began shooting through the roof. The farmhouse at 164 Berkshire Trail West, in the Judd family since it was built in the 1880s, was completely destroyed.

Judd said his three oldest sons immediately came out of their bedrooms when they heard the alarm, and his wife scooped up their youngest child as the family fled the home, running into the night where temperatures had dipped to 14 degrees.

“It was pretty terrible. There was no time to think about anything except getting out,” Judd said on Monday, two days after fire.

Though they escaped, the Judd family’s dog and cat died in the blaze. Judd said he attempted to rescue Sadie, the family dog, and Clarabelle, the cat, but the ferocity of the fire thwarted his efforts.

“I tried to get them out, but by that time it was just too hot,” he said.

The family had access to the keys to their two cars that were parked outside. Dressed only in pajamas and without any belongings or a cellphone, Jessica Judd drove her children to her mother-in-law’s home up the street and called 911. Phil Judd moved his vehicle out of the way and waited for emergency crews to arrive.

More than 50 firefighters from 10 towns — Ashfield, Buckland, Chesterfield, Cummington, Northampton, Plainfield, Westhampton, Williamsburg, Worthington and Windsor — responded to the scene. The fast-moving blaze is believed to have been caused by a wood stove and chimney, according to Goshen Fire Chief Susan Labrie.

Battling the blaze proved exceptionally difficult with ice forming quickly on the scene and firefighting equipment freezing up in the cold temperatures.

The couple returned to the fire after their children were settled in with their grandparents.

“We sat with the EMT’s and watched for a while, but it just got to be too much,” Phil Judd said.

At one point after most of the flames had been extinguished, a Williamsburg firefighter asked Judd if there was anything firefighters could search for in the home that might have survived the flames. Judd had one request.

“I do a lot of work with my hands so I kept my wedding ring at home in an antique metal cup,” he said. “The firefighters found the cup frozen on the ground and filled with ice. The ring was at the bottom.”

News spreads fast through the small Hilltown communities and when word got out that the Judds had lost their home, help started to pour in.

A GoFundMe page was set up online and arrangements were made for donations of food, clothing, furniture and other necessities to be dropped off at the Goshen Congregational Church.

“This community is just amazing, and we are deeply appreciative of all of the donations that have come in,” Phil Judd said. “There has been this huge outpouring from family, friends and as I understand it, people that don’t even know us.”

As of Monday afternoon, some $36,800 had been raised to help the family.

Judd works part time in the family business, George G. Judd & Sons Goshen Stone, and also operates his own trucking business. Jessica Judd is a photographer and is a member of the Goshen School Committee and the Parent Teacher Organization. The couple say they plan to rebuild their home on the same property.

“That will probably start in the spring,” Phil Judd said. “Right now we are staying in a good place.”

Judd said a representative from the board of supervisors from the Tilton Town Farm offered the unoccupied home on the farm for the family to live in until their home is rebuilt.

“We were in the middle of making other arrangements and we jumped at this,” he said. “They have been more than kind to us about everything.

“We are still waiting for the insurance to give us the OK to begin picking through it,” Judd said.

He said his family is doing OK and what it needs to do to get back on its feet.

“The kids are doing well. I think they are pretty resilient,” he said.

Judd also noted that his children are trained in how to respond to fire. He credited the educational programs of the Goshen Fire Department and Fire Chief Labrie with helping his family well before Friday’s tragedy.

“The Goshen fire chief comes to the school and teaches the kids what to do in case of a fire, and we have gone over our evacuation plan quite a bit, so the boys knew exactly what to do,” he said.

He said without a working fire alarm, it’s likely his family would not have survived the fire.

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