SOUTH HAMPTON — Picking through piles of scorched doorknobs and blackened bathtubs would be a chore under any circumstances, let alone in the 90-degree heat of the past several days. But the co-owners of Nor'East Architectural Antiques don't want to stand still in the wake of a fire that destroyed their business and inventory.
"To keep moving is key," said co-owner John Isgur. "Going at 90 miles an hour makes us feel busy."
Isgur, co-owner Donna Eldredge and their employees have been methodically sorting through the wreckage of a six-alarm fire that burned their office and warehouses to the ground last Tuesday. State fire marshals are still investigating what caused the blaze, but said it does not appear to be suspicious.
Even though practically nothing in Nor'East's inventory of salvaged and historic building materials is usable, Isgur and Eldredge do not want to have it hauled off to the dump. They're sorting it so it can be recycled at various scrap yards, which is taking time but is more in tune with the business' mission, Eldredge said.
"It'd be easy to scoop it all up and cart it off to the landfill, but that contradicts everything we believe in," Eldredge said.
Digging through the merchandise is painful, Eldredge said, because each furnishing brings back memories. But she and Isgur are already moving on — they just had a shipment of aged wood delivered to the site and made their first post-fire sale last Thursday. They already have a trailer set up as a new office, Isgur said.
"Once we get the computer going and this mess cleaned up, we'll be back in business," he said.
Isgur and Eldredge said they've received support from all over the community, from volunteers helping them clear the rubble to firefighters and police officers monitoring the site to businesses donating drinks to help keep workers cool. And they're staying involved with the community in other ways — while Eldredge has had to step down as coordinator for Amesbury's Relay for Life for a few weeks, she said she's still involved with the fundraiser.
Eldredge said one of her son's friends was just diagnosed with cancer, and working with the friend's father to clear the site helped put her loss in perspective.
"His father worked for seven hours Saturday and came over and hugged me, and I thought, 'Wow, I have it easy,'" she said.
And the co-owners heard that one of their cats might have survived the fire. Eldredge said a neighbor spotted a cat wandering in the woods near the site. She asked people to be on the lookout for a Maine coon cat, a tiger cat or a yellow cat in the area.
While she hopes one of the cats survived, Eldredge is mainly concentrating on getting the business back on its feet. Even though the inventory is gone, Nor'East is still a going concern, she said.
"We're definitely not quitting," Eldredge said. "This is a slight setback."