The Thornhill Fire Chief says an alert family in Gitaus is extremely lucky to have avoided tragedy by detecting a smouldering attic fire before it descended into their living space.
Three fire trucks and 10 firefighters were dispatched to the residence in the community on Gitselasu St. around 1:20 a.m. April 5.
At first, crews thought they were dealing with a potential chimney fire, but when they arrived on scene it became apparent they were dealing with something more serious and complicated.
“It ended up being a structure fire within the attic space and wall voids,” says Thornhill fire chief Rick Boehm.
Attic wall voids can be hidden throughout the insulation, surrounding a chimney, or around electric wiring and plumbing. If there’s a fire, burning embers in the break can fall inside the walls between the floors, Boehm says.
“It was very challenging because on certain parts of the wooden frame, material had burnt away, and it was a challenge to track all the hot embers,” he says.
“You’re picking up sawdust and trying to get it out of the home without dropping it on your way out. To sit there and pick and pull these little burning spots out of the wall was an extreme challenge.”
Crews returned to the fire hall around 5 a.m. this morning and revisited the site later this afternoon to make sure no hot spots were missed.
A family of five, two adults and three children, were inside the house at the time of the fire and managed to get themselves out of the house safely.
They realized something was wrong when the power only in a couple of rooms cut out. Upon investigation, they realized they may have a chimney fire on their hands and called the fire department.
Smoke alarms in the living area had not gone off because most of the smoke had been confined to the attic space, Boehm says.
“I don’t know too many people that put smoke detectors in their attics so they were very, very fortunate that they were awake. Otherwise what may have potentially happened is that the fire would have gone undetected for an extended period of time before it came down into the living quarters to trigger the smoke detector.”
The cause of the fire is under investigation. Electrical wiring in the attic corridor and the wood-burning chimney are both suspected.
While the extent of the fire’s destruction is unknown, damages to the house were relatively minimal, Boehm says.
“They’ve actually already expedited their insurance claim, and there are people on site evaluating for some of the [family] members to get back in as soon as possible,” he says.
“Very very lucky that these folks will be back in their home, maybe not today, maybe not this week, but they are currently receiving emergency support services to manage their current accommodation requirements.”
With daylight savings as an annual reminder, Boehm is asking the public to check their smoke detector batteries and confirm the 10-year period on their smoke detector has not expired.
Community fundraiser organized
Many of the family’s belongings were damaged by smoke and their home will need to be renovated before they can move back in. A community benefit dinner and loonie auction has been set up on Sunday, April 14 from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the Kitselas Hall (1561 Kulspal Crescent) to help support Leanne Woods, Fredrick Robinson Sr. and their three children. Donations over $1,000 will receive a tax donation receipt.
Contact organizer Lynn Parker at 250-641-7669 for more information.