Decorations seen as cause of Halfmoon Fire

The interior of the Balsamo house after the fire. Photo provided by Deb Smith.The interior of the Balsamo house after the fire. Photo provided by Deb Smith.

Cady Kuzmich
Gazette Reporter

HALFMOON – It would be an understatement to say it’s been a season of hardship for Tom and Dianna Balsamo.

Following heart surgery to have three stents placed in his arteries, Tom was discharged from the hospital Dec. 1. The couple decided to stop at Hannaford on their way home for some heart-healthy soup. When they returned to their home on Woodin Road in Halfmoon around 4 p.m., flames were bursting out of their living room windows
— news they had been given minutes earlier by their son.

According to the Go Fund Me page set up by Dianna’s sister, Deborah Spry Halpin Smith, the fire “appeared to be electrical and the cause may have been Christmas lights.” Dianna Balsamo confirmed that the fire department told her the fire was caused by a faulty breaker connected to holiday decorations.

The Balsamos have lived in Halfmoon since Jan 1, 1988. After moving to New York
from Connecticut, Dianna met her husband, at a church in Schenectady. “We fell in love,” she says, her voice lighting up despite the recent blow the couple has been dealt.

The Balsamos decided to raise their kids in Halfmoon and Dianna says she is thankful
for the roots they have laid in the area. “It’s a good sound foundation for the kids. There’s security in being in one place so long.”

As they drove home from the hospital that Tuesday afternoon, Dianna received a phone call from her son. He was crying. A neighbor had called him to say his parents’ home had caught fire. The Balsamos rushed home but were blocked from driving up to their house. They walked up the road until they saw police lights flashing and firefighters putting out flames as night fell.

The fire “melted our living room and most of the downstairs,” says Dianna. “We won’t
be back in our home for six months. My husband is supposed to be resting, . . . but we both have to work.”

For now, Dianna and Tom are staying with their son, David. “Thank God we have
family,” she says. The couple met with their insurance company on Dec. 3 to do a walk through and assess the damage.

“The insurance company said they would find us a place to stay so they can build the
house again. Until then, they said they would help us find an apartment so we will be able to go to work. We’re hoping they’ll cover the cost, but we’re not sure.” All the couple’s furniture and possessions were burned, melted or damaged by smoke.
“Nothing is salvageable,” Dianna said.

Still, Balsamo counts her blessings. “We found our cat last night. My husband was
calling for him and he came. We’re thankful for the cat. We’re thankful everybody is
alive and that my husband lived through the heart surgery. People have been generous.
Someone asked what size clothes we wear and brought us clothes so we don’t have to
wear my son’s clothes anymore.”

PEOPLE PITCHING IN
At the time of this writing, 74 people have donated to the couple’s fundraiser, totaling
over $8,000 in just one day. Some donors are anonymous and others leave heart-felt messages of condolence and support.

One donor writes, “On behalf of my family and friends, I hope everything gets sorted
out. And remember, you’re not alone.” Donations range from $5 to $1,000 and everything in between. “Any size donation will be greatly appreciated!” writes Smith. “Let one of your Christmas gifts this year be to help Dianna and Tom!”

“My sister Debbie always comes through for us. She’s miles away [in Connecticut] but
she’s like a big sister even though I’m her big sister,” Dianna said.

Balsamo says she is “floored” by the generosity total strangers have shown by donating to the Go Fund Me page. “It’s a miracle to me,” she said. “It’s so surreal. I just want to hug them all and kiss their faces and thank them all for caring for these people they don’t even know.”

When asked what sort of donations would be most helpful, Balsamo says “more than anything, just caring.” Talking through tears over the phone, she explained: “The money will help us get through. But all those people caring… Caring is the most precious thing to me and my husband. We never expected this and we were so surprised when we heard about this. We were just overcome with, I don’t even know what to call it, thankfulness. It makes me want to give to other people now.

“Please know I’m sending big hugs and prayers to anyone who sent 1 cent.”

Halfmoon’s After the Fire Inc., a nonprofit composed of volunteers who assist victims
of fire in the area, accepts the following personal care items as donations: toothbrushes,
toothpaste, brushes, shaving cream, disposable razors, deodorant, bath soap, hand lotion, shampoo, conditioner, Q-tips, baby powder, baby lotion, baby shampoo, baby bottles and pacifiers. According to the National Fire Protection Association, decorations, “excluding Christmas trees, were the item first ignited in an estimated average of 860 reported home structure fires per year, resulting in an annual average of one civilian death, 41 civilian fire injuries, and $13.4 million in direct property damage.”

Candles account for the largest portion, 38 percent, of these decoration-related fi res and electrical distribution/lighting equipment accounts for 8 percent of decoration-related fires, according to the NFPA. Unsurprisingly, fires linked to decorations peak in December.