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River Life: Peace, Pain

Nancy watches as her home goes up in flames. She wants to rescue her cat, but two cops at the scene tell her it's too dangerous. It's just a shack. But Nancy has lived there for more than a decade. Some 75 yards from the Connecticut River, the 10-by-18, carpeted structure had everything she and a longtime friend, Willie, needed: kerosene heaters, food, books, even photographs. Willie built it in the early '80s with wood he collected. Now, the heaters have exploded. Firefighters are hampered by the remote location. There are no roads, so a custom-made, four-wheel-drive truck with a tank supplies the water. Thick, black smoke is visible to Hartford-area commuters. Willie,...