Destruction by fire
'We lost everything' says victim of one of three blazes in less than 12 hours

Jason Bain
Local News - Monday, April 24, 2006 @ 09:00

KAWARTHA LAKES - It was a day of devastation and heartache as three separate Kawartha Lakes buildings - and all of the belongings of at least one family - went up in flames in less than 12 hours.

“We lost everything,” a visibly shaken Christy Miller said Friday as she stood with family and friends on a quiet country road northeast of Kirkfield watching fire consume 726 Shrike Rd.

As tenants, she said her family did not have any content insurance, and was very clear on how she felt about that.

“Devastated. Everything is gone,” Miller said, fighting back tears.

As if to reinforce the fact, a boarder at the farmhouse stood with the group on the road in his stocking feet, a hole in one toe.

“What size are your shoes?” Clint Everson asked this reporter with a chuckle, trying to bring some levity to the situation.

Miller said none of those who were in the house when the fire broke out had time to put on shoes.

Curiously, another victim of one of the other weekend fires could likely empathize with them.

He ran out of a burning lakeside cottage east of Coboconk without his shoes too, fire officials said. He was one of two contractors staying in the structure, which was razed by flames just after midnight.

The other blaze happened late Friday afternoon, damaging a home in the former Fenelon Township; like Miller and her family the tenants there weren’t insured.

Miller lived at the two-storey brick house with her common-law partner, Thomas Clayton, and four children - two boys aged three and seven and two girls aged four and nine. The oldest three attend Lady MacKenzie Public School in Kirkfield.

It was early Friday afternoon. Miller said she had just come home and was putting groceries away when she saw smoke coming from the wood-frame garage attached to the rear of the home.

She woke up the others in the house, including Clayton, Everson and another family friend, all of whom had been asleep.

“If I didn’t come home when I did . . . they would be dead right now,” Miller told The Daily Post.

“We just ran,” she added.

The group sat in two cars salvaged from the burning property. Two other vehicles - a truck and a van parked right beside the house - went up in flames.

Miller said her family plans to stay at the Brechin home of her mother, Doreen Crawford, for now.

The three blazes tested the resources of Kawartha Lakes Fire Rescue Service.

“We have never had three majors (in one day),” Assistant Fire Chief Pat Twohey said, noting the response times for each were “very good.”

On Shrike Road, about 30 firefighters from five volunteer halls worked through the afternoon to put out the blaze, which was called in at 1:36 p.m.

Twohey said the fire caused an estimated $105,000 damage in destroying the building, as well as $20,000 to the contents. The cause remained undetermined at press time, although he said it is known the fire started in the garage.

Around 4:27 p.m., a blaze broke out in the kitchen of 25 Jubb’s Shore Rd., just off of Highway 35, before spreading and doing an estimated $185,000 damage.

Eighteen firefighters from Fenelon Falls, Baddow and Cameron put out the fire.

A pot had been left on the stove, said Twohey, who noted investigation revealed the house had no smoke detectors.

Just after midnight, fire not only destroyed the large cottage but just about everything else at 46 Griffin Dr., on Four Mile Lake’s western shore in the former Somerville Township.

Twohey said the cause was an electrical failure on the outside of the building. Total damage was estimated at $250,000 - $220,000 building and $30,000 contents. That takes into account other losses, including aluminum siding on a neighbouring cottage that melted in the intense heat.

Flames spread to numerous spots across the property, even high up into the trees, Twohey said. Also destroyed were a shed and truck, with each loss estimated at $1,000, he said.

The fire, which blackened most of the forest floor on the property, was put out by 35 volunteers from halls in Coboconk, Norland, Baddow and Fenelon Falls.

A nearby resident was stunned looking at the ruins around noon Saturday after crews had cleared the scene in the wee morning hours.

“Holy cow!” he exclaimed, having just noticed the newly created void while he walked down the road shearing foliage.

Twohey said the two contractors had been staying at the cottage overnight; they ran to safety after one awoke to the smell of smoke and alerted the other.

The fires were a real test for the composite fire department, Twohey said, adding how they were an example of the challenges faced by rural, volunteer fire halls; the blazes on Shrike Road (off of Talbot River and Kirkfield roads) and Griffin Drive (off of Somerville 7th Concession and Highway 35) occurred well away from any paved roads.

Kirkfield, Norland and Coboconk crews arrived at Shrike Road to find the house fully engulfed and flames racing across the front yard and a neighbouring field, Kirkfield division Capt. Ken Summers said at the scene.

As crews worked to battle the soaring flames, charred, black grass snaked around children’s toys strewn on the front lawn. Remarkably, the toys showed no signs of being burned. Crews continued to put out hot spots of smouldering grass more than an hour after firefighters’ arrival.

The house was one of three family farms owned by Brian Wylie’s father. Brian said from the scene that Miller called him about the fire.

He said he was just glad everyone got out alive and uninjured.

“That home is worth nothing compared to somebody,” he said.

“You can put up a home any day,” Brian added as firefighters doused the raging blaze, which shot flames several metres into the air.

Crews from Carden and Woodville were also called to help, with Oakwood firefighters staging in Woodville to cover any potential calls there or in Kirkfield’s area.

Brian noted the garage had just recently been filled to the top with a “winter’s worth” of wood. That, Fire Chief Dave Guilbault said at the scene, explained why the rear of the building went up so fast and burned so hot.

Around noon hour Saturday, Kirkfield crews were also called back to the site to extinguish some smouldering debris.

Asked about a road in the area bearing his family’s surname, Brian said the family goes back at least three generations in the area.

He said the fire “wouldn’t even faze” his father. As he explained, the elder Wylie bought his “last Cadillac” so to speak at age 63 a few years ago, a brand new diesel truck, which was quickly demolished when he was sideswiped in a collision.

“This will just be another day to him,” Brian said, before walking over Miller and Clayton to help console the shaken family.