Salem Community Patriot | February 24, 2012 - 15 Treasure Found Amongst the Rubble
Bolio’s detached garage after the fire that occured on Halloweeen
by Barbara O’Brien Sometimes, when life seems filled with only
tragedy and despair, a single bit of “sunshine” can bring a smile and restore one’s hope for better days ahead. Such is the story of the Bolio Family of
Windham. Steve and Julie Bolio and their two children, Jenna, 16, a junior at Windham High School, and Kevin, 13, a seventh-grader at Windham Middle School, have lived on Lisa Road for the past 11 years. Steve is a commercial
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Steve and Julie Bolios and their children, Kevin and Jenna
electrical contractor and owner of Electrical Systems, Inc., located in Salem. Lisa works for “Perfect Smile” cosmetic dentistry in Nashua. In most ways, the Bolios have led a fairly typical life, dealing with the ups and downs that punctuate a marriage that has already endured for 19 years. The status of the Bolios’ life began to change
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drastically, however, this past June, when Julie was diagnosed with breast cancer and, subsequently, underwent a mastectomy and then fitted with an implant. Just as Julie was healing physically and emotionally, however, another disaster struck. On Halloween night, the Bolios’ detached garage caught fire and it and everything stored inside was destroyed. In addition to two of the three cars parked outside the garage, three lawn mowers, various tools and camping equipment, all the Christmas decorations they had been collecting for nearly two decades, sports equipment, a filing cabinet filled with family and business records, china, silverware and Steve’s motorcycle were burned nearly beyond recognition. But, the most profound loss was the contents of the hope chest that Steve had given to Julie when they got engaged 20 years ago. “Inside that hope chest were all the sentimental things Julie had saved,” Steve said. “The contents of that chest were basically ‘memory lane’ for her,” he explained. Included among Julie’s cherished possessions were her wedding dress; which she still took out once a year and enjoyed modeling for her family, the outfits in which she brought her daughter and son home from the hospital when they were born, the baby books in which she meticulously logged the details of her children’s lives from birth to age five, the blankets they cuddled up with as young children, their favorite toys, the spoons they were fed with as infants, all the photos that detailed their lives from birth until last year, Julie and Steve’s high school year books, their wedding album, even the little love notes that Steve had written to Julie over the years. “Stuff that to me, as a husband and father, were cool,” Steve said, “but, to Julie, they were everything.” Steve said he was home alone when the fire erupted. “I
was in the house when I heard a pop, then saw flames in the garage,” he said. By that time, several neighbors had already dialed 911. Thankfully, no one was injured as a result of the blaze and both of the Bolios’ cats escaped the inferno. “The heat was incredibly intense,” Bolio said, commenting that firefighters estimated the temperature reached in excess of 2,000 degrees. Although the
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fire did not spread to the Bolios’ house, the siding was charred, Steve said. “There’s no reason to believe the fire was suspicious,” he said, referring to reports from investigators. Following the fire on October 31, the Bolios were not allowed to enter the remains of the garage, because of the ongoing investigation. “All along, Julie kept asking me if I thought the hope chest made it,” Steve said. “Every time she asked, it broke my heart to tell her no, I didn’t think it had.” Finally, late last month, the Bolios were given the go-ahead to rummage through the
Julie and Steve Bolios on their wedding day
The next few weeks were filled with oncology appointments, biopsies and MRIs. “We stayed around here and kept each other occupied,” Julie said, commenting how her family provided endless support to her. “My daughter, Jenna, stuck by my side every day, choosing me over her friends, hanging with me in the hospital for hours,” she said. “My son, Kevin, kept me preoccupied and helped me smile through my tears. My husband had to care for me, after the surgery, in ways no marriage vows mention,” she said.
Te wedding album that miraculously survived the garage fire
ashes. “The day we got the okay to look, I went out with a shovel and started to turn over the area where I knew the hope chest would have been,” Steve recalled. “As I dug, I saw melted stuff that had been inside the hope chest and burnt wood that I can only assume used to be the hope chest,” he said. “But, as I dug deeper, I saw something white, so I got down on my knees and started to tear through the debris with my hands,” he continued. “Everything was gone, except one thing. It was our wedding album … in almost perfect condition. Everything on it, around it and even under it was burnt and gone, but the album survived,” he said. “When I say it was the only thing that survived the fire, I mean it was literally the only thing that survived,” Steve continued. The only exception was one tiny piece of lace from Julie’s wedding gown. “The photos are in pristine condition,” Steve said. After discovering the wedding album, Steve put the album inside a cardboard box, took it inside the house and waited for Julie to return from work. “When she opened that box, the expression on her face was enough to melt my heart forever,” he said. “She was just so happy that something had survived this horrible event.” “Even amidst all this chaos, there was a ray of hope,” he said. “This past summer, I was diagnosed with breast
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cancer, at the age of 40,” Julie said. “These words are some scary words,” she said. “As the doctor explained to me about the journey I was about to go on, I heard nothing. The doctor’s mouth was moving, but I heard nothing. I went home to my family, and, of course, cried about the fear of the unknown.” Julie said the family had been in the midst of planning a summer vacation, at the time, but those plans came to a grinding halt. “We were paralyzed,” she said.
“On October 31, there was more drama, when our garage caught fire,” Julie said. “We were all safe, which is most important,” but we lost so much of our history, she said. Their garage was an extension of their home, and they used it often, so to have sentimental items stored there wasn’t unusual, Julie explained. With all the combustible items: a snowblower, lawnmower, motorcycle, paint cans, gas cans, Julie didn’t see how anything could have survived. Still, Julie would ask Steve to humor her, asking if he would search through the debris when they were granted permission to do so. “Honestly, though, I knew there would be no way anything survived the fire,” she admitted. “How could a wedding album have survived, when it took fire trucks from four towns to extinguish a fire
where cars were incinerated to a pile of melted metal?” she questioned. “We have lost a lot, but what brought us together in the beginning, our wedding day, somehow survived,” Julie said. “While we lost everything else, we got to keep what bound us together so many years ago; our marriage, our commitment to one another,” Steve agreed. “This is a testament to 19 years of our marriage,” Steve said. “All that matters is that we are together.” Steve said that they have not been told the official cause of the fire that consumed their garage several months ago. “We would love to know the reason,” he said, adding that there was no electricity that night because of the aftermath of the unprecedented pre-Halloween snowstorm. The fire was investigated both by the Windham Fire Department and investigators from the insurance company, he said. Plans are to rebuild the garage as soon as possible and this time the structure will include fire-rated sheet rock and an alarm system. Steve noted. “I learned the importance of having an alarm first-hand,” he said. The Bolios expressed their appreciation to the
Windham Fire and Police Departments. “They were incredible,” Steve said. “They went out of their way to do their job,” he said. “My taxes are well-spent,” he said of the money used to support these services. Thanks also go to the Pelham, Derry, Londonderry and Salem Fire Departments for their assistance at the fire scene. The Bolios also thank their neighbors and members of their church, many of whom provided food, shelter, and emotional support throughout their ordeal. After months of recuperation, Julie has learned that she needs additional surgery to replace the implant that was put in last fall. But, despite the continuing battle, “We always try to remember that us being together at the end of each day is what’s really important,” she said. Things have not been easy, or fair, Julie said, but, she has a saying about dealing with tribulations … ”They can make you bitter, or they can make you better,” she said. “It’s up to you which one it’s going to be.” And, to his wife, Steve said, simply, “I love
you, Julie. You are the strongest person I have ever known.” “ She always puts a rainbow on everything,” he said, smiling. “The past eight months have actually brought our family even closer.”
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