Local family thankful for community support after fire

Submitted photo Pictured is the Bensink family’s house during the fire at 6060 Centralia-Hartfield Rd.

The Bensink family is moving forward with gratitude for the community’s support as they begin a “new normal” in the aftermath of a devastating house fire that destroyed most of their possessions last week.

Travis, Tawn, Thandon, Tatum, Tripp and Talia Bensink’s home, located at 6060 Centralia-Hartfield Road, was destroyed in a major house fire last Friday.

While none of the members of the Bensink family were at the house when the fire started, Tawn Bensink said their housekeeper Frannie had been cleaning in the house that morning.

“Sometime around 10 a.m. she started smelling some gas and was looking for the source of it,” she said. “The next thing she knew, she was filling a mop bucket with hot water and there was an explosion. She was hit by our laundry room door.”

After the explosion, Frannie quickly exited the house, ran down the driveway and was picked up by a family friend. Another friend of the Bensink family saw smoke coming from the house and quickly called 911.

Submitted photo Pictured is Travis Bensink with a sign that was found in the wreckage of the Bensink’s home after last week’s fire. The Bensink family told The Post-Journal they are “so grateful” for all the support from emergency responders, firefighters, friends, family and community members.

Travis Bensink, culinary operations manager and executive chef at Chautauqua Institution, said he was volunteering at Chautauqua Lake Central School for “Wellness Day” when his phone started “going crazy” with calls from someone he normally did not receive calls from.

“I didn’t know what’s happening,” he said. “Somebody that normally wouldn’t call me was calling me repetitively.”

After being informed by Tommy Cole, a volunteer fireman at Chautauqua Lake that his house was on fire, Bensink left the school with his wife Tawn who was substitute teaching and his 14-year-old son Thandon who was in class.

Tawn Bensink told The Post-Journal that at least 10 fire departments were already at the house and working together to put out the fire when they arrived at the scene. An emergency medical crew quickly cleared Frannie, who had been hit by a door in the explosion that started the fire. While she was shaken from the incident, the medical crew said she was uninjured.

According to the Bensink family, the fire investigators believe a propane gas leak started the fire. The family had the option in the home to use either a propane gas or electric option for their dryer, which was electric. Since the family chose to use the electric option, a cap was placed over the existing propane pipe. During the time when the family’s housekeeper arrived at the house Friday morning and 10 a.m., investigators believe the pipe started leaking.

P-J photo by Timothy Frudd Pictured is the upstairs of the Bensink family’s house during last week’s fire.

“What happened is the propane started leaking into our laundry room and there were doors closed so it was just contained in that laundry room area,” the Travis and Tawn Bensink said. “There’s a pilot light on our hot water tank in there, so when the propane hit that pilot light on the hot water, there was like a bomb going off in the corner of our house. She heard an explosion and then she was hit with the door and then the fire would have started behind our dryer because of that propane line.”

The Bensink family explained that the fire was “purely an accident” with no one at fault. They added that the investigators are still not sure what could have caused the leak to start.

“We just thank God that none of us were there and that she wasn’t hurt,” Travis Bensink said.


As the fire consumed their house, the Travis, Tawn and Thandon Bensink stood at the edge of the street at the end of the driveway.

“It’s not a call you ever expect to get,” Travis Bensink said. “You can’t prepare yourself for it, and then to go and watch it all happen, just such a helpless feeling. It was just numb just to see the hard work that you’ve done with you and your family to build something and then to have it just taken away in an instant.”

While the Bensink family watched their home burn, friends and community members stayed with the family, comforting them, praying with them and making arrangements for a place to stay at a furnished condo in the Chautauqua Institution.

By the time Travis, Tawn and Thandon Bensink returned to the school to tell the other three Bensink children about the fire, friends and family members had already set up a Venmo donation, a Go Fund Me page and a collection at Light House Point Grocery in Mayville.

While the family remained at the school, Tawn Bensink said the family received support from teachers and school staff, who quickly gathered resources such as food and toiletry items for the family.

“They fed us all kinds of food and just really initially supported us right there, and then we had lots of help after trying to clean up at the house,” she said.

Bensink explained that at least a third of the “little bit” of items the family has recovered from the house will have to be thrown away due to smoke saturation.

While the Bensink family had only moved into their house on Centralia-Hartfield Rd. about three years ago, the family said they had made “a lot of memories” in the house. Tawn Bensink said many of the children’s “sentimental items” were destroyed in the fire. Travis Bensink said that as a chef, losing all of his professional knives and cooking equipment was difficult as well. The house had also been large enough for each of the Bensink children to have their own room, something Travis Bensink said was something the family had always wanted.

“You walk through, and you see like memories laying on the ground,” the Bensink family said. “It’s your whole life in rubble.”


Despite the devastation of the fire, the Bensink family said they have been overwhelmed with an outpouring of support from family, friends, Chautauqua Lake Central School, the Chautauqua Institution, people from all over Chautauqua County and even from communities in other states.

“We probably went through 40-plus bags of clothing donations,” Tawn Bensink said. “Hundreds of toiletry items have been donated to us, the kids have received all kinds of comfort items, our GoFundMe has just exploded. I would say we’re just totally in awe, never expected anything like this. We definitely have multiple communities contributing. This has turned into something much larger, where you see the good in people and you understand that they want to be there for you, even if it’s a hug.”

Bensink added that people in the community have already been discussing the organization of a benefit event that could help the family as they prepare to rebuild their lives.

Over the past few days, the family has been trying to get back to what Travis Bensink described as “the new normal.” He emphasized the importance of remaining involved in the community and having their children, Thandon, Tatum, Tripp and Talia back involved in each of their daily activities.

“God has a path for us,” Travis Bensink said. “We’re going to keep walking that path he has for us, pushing forward, just making sure that we’re not changing who we are what we do.”

As the community continues to support the Bensink family, Travis Bensink said the honest answer to people asking how they can help is, “We really don’t know.” Currently, the family is not in need of any clothing or toiletry items. Bensink said that as the family goes throughout each day, they start to realize more of the day-to-day items they are missing and are working on a list of items they need.

“It kind of feels like you’ve moved, but you didn’t bring anything with you,” Tawn Bensink said. “It would probably be like moving your house with none of your stuff and then a ton of emotional damage, but with a lot of love and support. You feel like somebody kind of has their arm around your shoulder, coming alongside you, but we don’t really know what to tell people or how to help because we’ve never navigated anything like this before.”


Moving forward, the family’s plan is to rebuild at the same location. The family is currently waiting for the insurance company to present its final analysis and determination; however, the family’s intention is to remain on the property and build something new. As the family continues to move forward, Tawn Bensink said it has been “amazing” to see people “be the hands and feet” by supporting the family and helping in various ways. She told The Post-Journal that a “lot of people” have lost sleep while trying to help the family be as comfortable as possible. Bensink said the community’s support has felt like “all of our worlds colliding” as people work together to help out in a plethora of ways, which she said, “has to be God doing that.”

“We’re so grateful to everyone,” Travis Bensink said. “We do hope that there comes another time and opportunity when we can repay these people in some way, shape or form and just do something for them; if the opportunity presents itself, to help in the ways that we’ve been helped.”

Tawn Bensink added that she hopes her family’s story can raise awareness of the need for each family to have a thorough plan in the case of a fire emergency. Having experienced the devastation of a house fire, the family is encouraging other people to consistently check their smoke alarms and review fire safety plans with their families.

“We really credit the Safety Village for doing the training programs with the kids,” she said. “The Safety Village provides all kinds of training opportunities. The only way that my kids would have successfully got out of that house was using the tools that they learned at that, because most families don’t practice fire plans.”


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