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After fire claimed an Epsom campground owner’s home, the slow path to rebuilding comes in quick bursts

  • Ken Smith, 65, looks at a coin that was burned in a fire that destroyed his home and barn at the Lazy River Campground in April. The family has been finding buckets of coins from the barn’s pinball machines, pool tables and car-racing games. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Ken Smith, 65, and son Kenny, 31, look over an interior wall in their future home, a prefabricated unit, which they said should be ready for move-in in about two months.

  • Construction equipment is seen at Ken Smith’s home at the Lazy River Campground in Epsom earlier this week. Last week, only a basement existed at the location. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Ken Smith, 65, helps his son Kenny as they cut plywood for the basement cover on their new home at the Lazy River Campground in Epsom on Thursday, August 30, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The entrance to the Lazy River Campground in Epsom on Thursday, August 30, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Firefighters battle a blaze at a barn and house at the Lazy River Campground in Epsom in April. Courtesy Jay Heath

  • Ken Smith, owner of Lazy River Campground in Epsom, watch the barn and house burn Monday morning. Photo courtesy Jay Heath

  • Firefighters watch as the aerial ladder from the Loudon Fire Department hoses down the last fire near the chimney at the visitor center of the Lazy River Family Campground in Epsom on Monday, April 16, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER



Monitor staff
Friday, August 31, 2018

The fire happened fast on a chilly April morning, scorching Ken Smith’s home and reducing his barn to charred rubble.

A major step in the rebuilding process fell into place this week, when his new house went from a barren foundation to a two-story, roofed, drywalled, fully wired living space in a single day.

“Yesterday morning, all there was was a cellar,” Smith said this week, pointing to his brand new manufactured home near the entrance of the Lazy River Campground in Epsom, which he’s owned and operated since 1997.

It was a relief to reach this stage four months after Smith and his son Kenny watched flames sweep through the century-and-a-half-old house, then leap across a “rickety old catwalk-type thing” bridging the gap to the barn.

“It was quick,” Kenny said. “It hit something, a backdraft or something. We saw the barn doors blow open.”

Weeks after the fire, Ken, 65, and Kenny, 31, were standing inside their future home, a prefabricated unit, which they said should be ready for move-in in about two months. It was delivered in four big pieces on a Tuesday, assembled on a Wednesday, and awaiting the finishing exterior touches of weatherproofing and siding on Thursday, Ken said.

Father and son were hard at work on those exterior touches this week, nailgunning plywood on the walls of what will be a walk-out basement as children shrieked and played in the campground pool a few hundred feet away.

The home will be two separate spaces. Ken will bunk upstairs with his older son, Duane, a 33-year-old Air Force Reserve member who’s served in Iraq and Afghanistan and may be stationed overseas soon, according to Kenny. Kenny will be downstairs with his girlfriend and their two children. They get the first floor because one of the children has a joint disorder that makes stairs difficult, Kenny said. The family has been living in campers on the property since the fire.

In the living room of the lower unit, Ken and Kenny balance-beam-walked across stacks of vinyl siding and other building materials to get to the kitchen and dining area, which had cabinets and light fixtures installed but was still awaiting appliances. They pointed to sliding glass doors that currently open to nowhere, awaiting a back porch they said would eventually connect the house to the barn – no rickety old catwalk bridging the narrow gap between the two buildings.

“We learned our lesson,” Kenny said.

While the house was looking much more like a home, the barn was still missing.

What had once been a hub of activity on the property – it housed the campground business office, as well as a recreation area where children could play arcade games and attend dances on Saturday nights – remained a gaping concrete cavity. The foundation had been poured, with rebar spikes dotting the rim, awaiting work from the Smiths’ barn guy. Until the structure is done, the campground office remains in a rented construction trailer in the parking area.

The cost of the house was mostly covered by insurance, according to Ken, but the barn will be “pretty much out-of-pocket.”

The barn was much more than a campground hotspot. The basement housed three snowmobiles, two lawnmowers, one four-wheeler, and Ken’s tools and welding equipment, which he uses for work in the offseason. All were totaled in the fire.

Still, the site of coin-op entertainment was yielding some unexpected income months after it was lost in the fire.

“We’re still finding burnt quarters,” Ken said, plucking a charred coin out of the sand and holding it out.

Kenny said there had been buckets of coins, thousands of dollars’ worth, on hand for the barn’s pinball machines, pool tables and car-racing games, as well as a change machine to make it all work. Some of the burnt quarters are spendable, some too damaged and puffed-out to be used, Kenny said.

While Ken and Kenny have spent the summer getting their house in order, they were also minding their business. The house arrived just ahead of Labor Day weekend, one of the busiest times for campgrounds like Lazy River.

“Oh, we’re booked solid through the weekend,” Ken said.

The construction hasn’t bothered their camping customers much, according to Kenny. He said the occasional blaring belch of an air compressor was the loudest thing that might disturb the guests. The campground area is set fairly far away from the house with a small hill in between.

The whole experience has seemed to come in quick bursts – the sudden loss of the house and barn, the quick assembly of their new prefab home – but Ken said he knows it’s a long road ahead until his house is whole.

“We’re getting there,” he said. “Just takes time.”

(Nick Upton can be reached at 369-3315 or at nupton@cmonitor.com.)