St. Augustine house fire leaves family homeless, searching for help
One St. Augustine family is grieving the loss of a home left in ruins after a July 30 fire, and is turning to the community for help.
The blaze started in a bedroom at 350 Roosevelt Terrace around 10 p.m. and quickly spread to the rest of the 2-story structure. Though St. Johns County Fire Rescue teams were able to contain the fire, the house was left severely damaged and uninhabitable.
None of the seven occupants were home at the time and are now living with family nearby. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
But while the residence itself is a casualty, the greater tragedy for the Campbell family is the loss of beloved pets (several cats perished in the flames), material possessions and, perhaps more importantly, items and memories that can never be replaced.
“We lost generations of stuff, things that can never be replaced,” Leighann Longo told The Record Friday.
Longo, who grew up in the house, now lives directly behind it in a mobile home on the same property. Longo, 39, was at work at the time of the blaze.
The family has owned the property for generations. The structure, originally built by her late father in the 1970s, had most currently housed her mother, a niece and five children; all but one of the children are elementary-school aged.
A lifelong St. Augustine resident, Longo’s 70-year-old mother, Elizabeth Campbell, is the adoptive mother of four children and was a bus driver for the St. Johns County School District for 30 years before retiring four years ago.
“I see people all around town, and they’ll say, ‘Ms. Campbell!’ and then I have to remember who they are, there’s so many,” Campbell said with a laugh.
In an interview at the site of the charred structure Friday, Campbell said she had not been able to bring herself to step foot inside the house until then.
Two weeks after the fire, the cinder-smell of embers remains, the living room a shamble of upended couches, children’s toys scattered about, a piano covered in ashen debris and a ceiling fan with blades melted downward from the scorching heat.
“It’s just too much,” Campbell said, trailing off. “I’ve been here my entire life, my husband, my mother …”
The family did not have fire insurance.
Longo, who works three jobs, has received the support of one of her employers, the Saint Augustine Distillery, in trying to recover from the catastrophe. Longo has been a longtime worker in the distillery’s bottling division.
In a social media post asking community members for help and donations, the Saint Augustine Distillery posted on its Facebook account recently: “Community is everything, and we count ourselves lucky to be a part of such an incredible one. Thank you for rising to the opportunity to help a local family in need. Every little bit of help makes a world of difference.”
The distillery has also helped Longo set up a GoFundMe account at bit.ly/3CPMoiG to help raise money and other necessities for the family.
As of Friday afternoon, the account had met $8,673 of a $200,000 goal.
If possible, Campbell would like to salvage the home, but first it needs to be cleared of debris and cleaned to see if a rebuild is possible. Longo estimates that will take at least $10,000, maybe less if volunteers are willing to help, just for the cleaning effort.
All of the five kids, who are about to return to classes Monday, had already bought new clothes and other school supplies which they lost in the fire.
The family has been lucky enough to receive some clothing donations, but they also are need of cleaning products, hygiene supplies and other household items to get them through this hard time.
“You don’t know until something like this happens,” said Campbell, “what you’ve truly lost.”