GILSUM — Twelve days ago, when Amanda Swanson got home after running errands, nothing seemed wrong at first. Just an odd smell, like a candle, maybe from a neighbor’s wood stove.
Then she opened the door to her house and the ceiling caved in.
"I couldn’t really see anything,” she said in an interview Friday. “It was just really black.”
Swanson immediately thought of her two dogs — Axel, a rescue puppy she’d had for seven years, and Oakley, her “dream dog,” a Dalmatian she got last year. She called out but didn’t see them.
She ran around back and tried to break in through a glass sliding door. At the same time, Swanson — a Jaffrey police officer — called the Cheshire County dispatch center.
She got far enough into the smoke-filled house to see one of her dogs, not moving. “I knew at that point that my dogs weren’t there anymore,” she said, “and I had to leave my house.”
The blaze in the early afternoon of Jan. 24 destroyed the home Swanson owned on White Brook Road. Gilsum Fire Chief William Johnson said the next morning that investigators could not determine the fire’s cause, but did not find it suspicious.
Swanson said it was the toughest moment of her life.
“Losing my dogs has been the worst thing I’ve ever experienced,” she said. “I don’t care about my house. I just cared about those guys.”
As difficult as it has been, Swanson said she’s been overwhelmed by the community’s generous response.
It started with members of her “first-responder family.” Several fellow officers from Jaffrey, including her lieutenant, turned up at her house the day of the fire, said Swanson, who also works in Richmond as a part-time officer.
That extended family’s support didn’t end that day. Police from around the state have called Jaffrey Police Chief William Oswalt, asking if they can do anything for her, she said. Fire departments have also been supportive.
The Peterborough Police Association announced last week that it would collect donations for Swanson. Peterborough police Officer Chris Martin, the association’s vice president, said members also voted unanimously to donate some of the group’s money.
“Any time a fellow officer’s in a time of need, we’re going to do our best to help out,” Martin said.
Martin said he knows of at least one other such group donating to Swanson — the police association in Rindge, where Martin works part-time.
Swanson said members of the community have visited her at work and offered whatever they can give. One person said Swanson could hang out with her dogs.
“Even people I don’t know, people I’ve never talked to, have reached out to me,” she said.
People close to her have helped as well. Swanson said she’s been able to stay with family in the area. A cousin set up a GoFundMe page that, as of Monday evening, had raised almost $14,000 from 261 separate donations.
“I wish that I could take the time to thank every single person,” Swanson said. “I’m usually not at a loss for words, and the last week I haven’t even known what to say.”
The GoFundMe page for Swanson is at gofundme.com/gilsum-house-fire-complete-loss.