Community rallies around Leicester house fire victims

Derrick Counter looks over the burnt remains of his family’s mobile home off Route 7 in Leicester after a Jan. 2 blaze destroyed the home. The family escaped safely, but several pets perished.
Photo by Lee Kahrs


LEICESTER — The Counter family of Leicester lost everything in a Jan. 2 fire that consumed their mobile home and killed several animals, but they are heartened by a community that is rallying in support.

The mobile home was located toward the back of the property next to Champlain Beverage off Route 7 near the four corners by Leicester Central School. The blaze began in the area of a woodstove operating on an exterior porch just before 2 a.m. this past Thursday morning. The mobile home was owned by Derrick and Tonya Counter, who also own and operate Mountain View Automotive on the same property. The garage was not damaged in the fire.

The Counters lived in the home with their two daughters, plus Derrick’s sister-in-law Deb Counter, her boyfriend and her daughter. Also living in the home were two dogs, eight cats, three guinea pigs and three ferrets. Five cats, the ferrets and the guinea pigs all perished in the fire.

Thirty-six hours later, Derrick Counter and two friends were sifting through the charred wreckage of the trailer, looking for anything salvageable. They were also looking for the remains of the pets. Two were found that day.

A gleaming pile of copper caught the afternoon light against the burnt remains of everything in the Counter home. It was the pennies, dimes and nickels from a jar Counter had been saving change in for years, probably close to $1,000 worth, he said.

Tonya Counter said the fire was fully involved when the family woke up. Her husband escaped wearing just a pair of boxer shorts, she in a thin nightgown. They got their two daughters, a dog and three cats out of a window before fleeing the trailer. 

The family and the surviving pets are currently living in a fifth wheel camper on their property.

The mobile home dated back to 1969 and the family had no homeowner’s insurance.

That is where the Leicester/Brandon community comes in. Since daybreak following the fire, people were pulling into the Counters’ driveway bringing donations and hugs of support.

“The community has been amazing,” said Tonya’s mother, Lil Lowell. “From daylight to well after dark, they were showing up.”

Several fundraising events and raffles have been created to help the family.

• A GoFundMe account has been set up with a goal of raising $3,000. As of Monday, Jan. 13, $1,303 had been tallied. To donate, go online and visit

• There will be a benefit basket raffle at the Brandon American Legion on Saturday, Feb. 1, from 12 noon-2 p.m.

• A gun raffle will begin on Jan. 8 and run until Feb. 1. Tickets are $10.

• A 50/50 raffle with begin on Jan. 8 and run until Feb. 1. Tickets are $1, six for $5.

• There will be a bake sale at the Legion on Feb. 1 as well, which will continue through Bounce House Karaoke later that night.

Raffle tickets will be available for purchase at Brandon House of Pizza. Other locations may be added in the future.

Derrick Counter stood on the burned rubble Friday and held out both hands, palms up.

“You could’ve told me on New Year’s about how supportive the community is, and I wouldn’t have believed it,” he said.

He lowered his left hand.

“On this hand, it’s here with the devastation.” He then raised his right palm above his head

“But this hand is as high up as you can reach with the community support.”

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