Resident: I Just Want My House Back

Joel Botwick is still dealing with the loss of his home from a lightning strike.

On one side of the house is a giant hole where the roof appears to have caved in, and other sections of the roof have wasted away to the rafters.

But for Joel Botwick, who lost his Wilde Hollow home when a fire consumed it after it was , he just wants to move forward.

Botwick said it was a normal evening like any other when he was sitting inside his house watching the start of the Yankees game, as a storm waged on outside.

His two dogs, Botwick said, were hiding in a room upstairs because they were afraid of the storm, and he was sharing his house for a week with someone who was helping him with some outside work.

"I can't lift heavy things because of bladder cancer," he said. "I was letting the man live here for a week while he was doing mulch work."

And then everything changed.

"I heard lightning come through the house," he said. "And I smelled smoke."

Botwick said he went out to the deck and saw that his bedroom was on fire. At that point, he said, he tried to get back into the house to save his two dogs.

"I tried to get back in," he said sadly. "The fire won."

After firefighters and police responded to the scene, Botwick was taken to Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, where he stayed for two weeks while being treated for third degree burns on his hands and arms.

"One might need skin grafts," he said. "But Saint Barnabas is the best hospital I've been to."

And since he was released from the hospital, Botwick has been staying at the Somerset Hills Hotel.

"It has been extremely difficult," he said. "My daughter came down from Connecticut to help, and I'm staying at the Somerset Hills Hotel until I figure out what I'm going to do."

One thing Botwick is sure of is that he is not giving up on his house or his spot of land in Bridgewater.

Botwick said he moved to Wilde Hollow in 1998 after leaving Hillsborough. He found the house and knew it needed some work, but decided to buy it from the former owners.

"There was no backyard when I bought it," he said. "I took 22 loads of film, leveled it and put in a pool and stonework."

Since the fire, Botwick's wife, from whom he is separated, has been able to get a few things from the house that were not destroyed, including some pottery and silverware. But Botwick himself is not allowed inside at the risk of infection to his burns.

The separate garage on the property still holds some items and was completely untouched by the fire.

Botwick said he is planning to leave the hotel soon and head to Lake Mohawk, in Sparta, where he also owns property.

And he will be taking on the task of rebuilding.

Every contractor he has spoken with, Botwick said, has determined that the house cannot be rebuilt, it will have to be knocked down and they will start from scratch.

"I want to rebuild," he said. "I love it here, and my friends are around here."

"It will be one step at a time," he added. "I will get relocated, then start working with contractors and architects. I want the same design, I want my house back."

And while he is working on that, he has received some help in the form of gift cards from businesses, which were collected by the and given to Botwick Friday.

Bridgewater Township Police Officer, and PBA President, Robert Reilly said gift cards were donated from , , , , and more.

"If it makes things a little bit easier, I think we accomplished our goal," he said.

Reilly said the PBA also just received a Paypal transfer as a donation, which will be split between Botwick and the family whose home on Donald Drive also burned after being struck by lightning on June 22.

Reilly said they are still collecting donations if anyone wants to give, and more information is on the PBA website.

Botwick said he is grateful for what people have done.

"It is marvelous the help I have gotten from friends, family and local businesses," he said.

As Botwick begins to get his affairs back in order, and prepares to start working on his new house, he said he is also planning to adopt two German shorthair pointers from a local rescue, after losing his two dogs in the fire.

"I am going to get two, at least that is something I can feel good about," he said of rescuing two dogs.

For now, Botwick is attempting to move forward and take care of the business at hand—but that doesn't necessarily make the situation any easier.

"It's been hell," he said.

John Stevens July 20, 2012 at 06:13 PM
This is not breaking news.


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