Christine McKay was hanging clothes in the late summer sunshine when she heard the smoke alarm blare from inside her home.

By the time she sprinted into the house, dark smoke had begun to cloud the ceiling. And when she reached the living room, where a candle had been burning before she went outside to hang the laundry, the couch was engulfed in flames.

It would take more than an hour for firefighters from multiple local departments to extinguish the flames, which at one point leapt from the roof and windows of the two-story house. When the smoke finally cleared, the blackened husk that stood in the place of their family’s longtime home was unrecognizable.

“It was completely destroyed,” McKay said in an interview. “Everything inside of it – all the furniture, the appliances – we lost almost everything.”

Longtime Riverhead residents, Christine and her husband Jeff McKay purchased their Jamesport home on Main Road in 1988. It was there that they raised their two daughters, now ages 25 and 27, and that they first began planning to open their now-thriving downtown wine bar, Vines and Hops on East Main Street.

In the days following last Saturday’s fire, Christine McKay and her family have been picking through the charred remnants of the home they have lived in for the past 29 years. The damage to the house and its contents is devastating. Furniture in the living room, dining room and bedrooms have all been lost. The kitchen appliances melted from the heat of the fire. McKay’s antique cradle that she had slept in as an infant, along with her daughter’s cribs that she was saving for their own children, were “burnt to crisps.”

“My cell phone is gone, my car keys, my wallet with my license – it’s like starting from scratch,” she said.

The clothes that survived the fire are totally unusable due to significant smoke damage, including McKay’s mother-of-the-bride dress, which she had planned to wear at her daughter’s wedding next month.

Not all the losses from the fire are material. Between the family’s two dogs and three cats, all survived but one – a kitten that had been closed inside the bedroom at the time of the fire.

But as McKay and her younger daughter, Yvonne, spoke about the devastation their family had faced, they repeatedly returned to their gratitude for their neighbors and the support of the community during the past week.

As the fire ravaged their home, a group of neighbors and visitors to nearby Jason’s Vineyard gathered on the lawn to help. One woman ran into the burning home to rescue a cat from the basement. Another neighbor brought a ladder to attempt to rescue the kitten, visible in the upstairs window, but the ladder was too short and they could not reach her.

A family photo of the McKay’s that was rescued from the fire. Courtesy photo

Though the firefighters could not save the house, they managed to rescue several of the McKays most irreplaceable possessions – photos, yearbooks and an album full of wedding photos.

“The firefighters truly went above and beyond,” McKay said. “I just can’t thank them enough.”

And in the days following the fire, donations have been flowing generously to help the family find their footing again. A GoFundMe page has raised more than $15,000 over a period of eight days, which has allowed the family to begin replacing clothes, prescription medications and other basic necessities like toiletries and food.

Several women have even offered Christine their own mother-of-the-bride dress for Yvonne’s wedding next month.

“People have donated who don’t even know us personally,” said Yvonne. “The sense of community has been so encouraging. It doesn’t give you a chance to feel alone.”

Though the family’s homeowner’s insurance will alleviate some of the cost of the damage, it may not arrive for several weeks, and it won’t pay for everything they lost in the fire. In addition, the family had to close Vines and Hops for much of the week last week while recovering from the fire, which resulted in several days of lost income for both McKay and her husband.

“I’m just so thankful to everybody who helped that day and who has been helping since,” Christine said, her voice full of emotion. “Many of them are strangers, and they reached out like I was a family member and I’ll never see them again. I wish I could thank them.”

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Katie Morosky
Katie, winner of the 2016 James Murphy Cub Reporter of the Year award from the L.I. Press Club, is a co-publisher of RiverheadLOCAL. A Riverhead native, she is a 2014 graduate of Stony Brook University. Email Katie