NORWALK, Conn. – The trials continued for a South Norwalk minister Tuesday when her house caught fire.
The Rev. Nellie Mann culminated 10 months of a “hard, long haul” Monday afternoon when she resigned her position as a Norwalk Police Chaplain after concluding that she just wasn’t wanted and would not be forgiven for words that offended the rank and file.
Less than 24 hours later, the well-intentioned toss of a smoke bomb caused a fire in the attic of her Lawrence Street home. Norwalk firefighters quickly put the fire out, but Mann and five members of her family are spending at least two nights in a hotel because of the damage.
“I thought yesterday was trying,” she said Tuesday afternoon as Red Cross volunteers worked to find her lodging. “I got through it. Now this. This is like a double whammy.”
A bucket in the living room caught drips coming through the ceiling from the badly damaged second floor where her son has been living with his fiance and two children. Mann said water was running down inside the walls and she would have to empty all the closets. She had just started organizing clothing for charity.
There had been a raccoon in the attic, Mann said. Her son asked if he could throw a smoke bomb in and get rid of it. She said yes.
“I thought nothing of it,” she said. “It was just a freak accident.”
Her first sign of a problem was someone banging on the door, she said. She thought, “I’m not answering it because I don’t know who it is.”
Then her son yelled that the house was on fire.
“You couldn’t smell anything,” she said.
Firefighters from the Meadow Street station got there within a minute after being called at 2 p.m., Deputy Chief Chris King said in a press release. They cut a hole in the roof and had the fire out in 15 minutes.
With the electricity and gas both shut off, Mann chatted with Common Councilman David Watts as a Red Cross volunteer got papers together on her dining room table.
“Lord, please don’t ruin all my stuff,” Mann said. “When it rains it pours. At least we’re OK. But upstairs it’s horrible.”
Watts said he had come by to let her know she had a friend and to check on her after her “emotional day” Monday.
“It’s been a rough 24 hours for her,” he said. “It’s been very difficult. I’m keeping her in my prayers.”
Watts said Mayor Richard Moccia had texted him about the situation and was looking for her resume, as she is being appointed to the Fair Rent Commission. The Rev. Jeffrey Ingraham came in briefly to check on Mann, too.
Watts stayed for several hours.
“I can’t imagine what she’s going through,” he said. “The community will pull together and help her, do whatever they can. I just want to stand by her.”
Mann said she and her husband have lived in the home for about 35 years. They’ve added on several times. Her son’s two children are 1 and 13 years old; another grown son came in to check on everybody. Her husband went outside to stare at the rafters and see where the animal had gotten in.
Watts said his family had been displaced by a fire in 2007, so he knew what she was going through.
Mann said it was shocking. “Everything stops,” she said. “It’s like, ‘Wow.’”