A house fire on Kipling Road East in Verner took members of the West Nipissing Fire Service seven hours to extinguish, and all that was left in the end was rubble and exhausted fire fighters. According to WN Fire Chief Frank Loeffen, the call came in on Wednesday, July 5th, at 1:45pm and crews did not clear the call until 8:45 pm that night. It took 5 stations and 21 firefighters to attend the blaze, which the chief says was necessary in order to safely rotate crews and keep them supplied with water in the extreme heat. Despite taking these measures, crews still had to make a 22 km round trip to refill tankers, and two members were sent to hospital for heat exhaustion. They were treated and released the same night.
“There’s very little to work with on the Kipling Road fire. With the temperature that day, and everything else, we were on the losing-end of the game before we even got dispatched,” describes the chief, adding that they had 33-degree heat to contend with. The fire was called in by a passerby, which meant that by the time the fire service responded it would have been already well established inside the house. Loeffen estimates property damages at approximately $575,000 and deems the house and all its contents a total loss. He also says that with the degree of the damage, it is impossible to determine the cause of the blaze.
The home is confirmed to have belonged to Richard Guay Sr., by a family member who started a GoFundMe campaign on July 8th. The campaign, named Guay House Fire Recovery Fund, has raised around $6,500 so far and was started by Stephanie Atwood, Guay’s granddaughter. “Join us in extending a helping hand to Richard Guay Sr., a resilient member of our community who recently lost his beloved home he built over 30 years to a devastating fire. This unfortunate event has left him with nothing but the clothes on his back, as he did not have fire insurance to cover the loss,” reads the campaign’s webpage.
While the Guay family is attempting to rally and raise funds to build a new home, family friends are also holding fundraisers to help. A spaghetti supper is being planned for Saturday, July 28th, at the Legion in Powassan. “We wanted to do more than express our sorrow at the situation. We felt called to act and help them out. We thought this event was the best way to be of assistance,” wrote Debbie Austin in a post to announce the event. She asks people to call her at 705-724-2235 to reserve their place by July 25th. Plates are $10 for adults and $5 for children under 6.
The fire on Kipling was quite the ordeal for the fire department to deal with not only because of concerns for the structure, but also due to fears over a potential brushfire. Loeffen confirms that they had fire spread from the structure and into the outlying brush, and that he had to divert the crews’ attention to fighting on two fronts. “It did get into the long grass and the trees, but luckily the crew was able to contain it to that. So, they did get it out, but now you’re using your water resources that you’re trying to fight a structure fire with, to now fight the grass and brush fire with,” he describes. Luckily, by the end of the call the fire was contained, and the two firefighters had been released from hospital.
Seven fires in 11 days
Although the fire on Kipling Road East was the worst of them, the West Nipissing Fire Service has been the busiest they’ve ever been in early July. They dealt with 7 separate fire incidents over an 11-day period. The first was a kitchen fire in Evansville on July 4th due to unattended cooking. One station attended the fire at 5:20pm, and damages were estimated at $25,000. The second was the Kipling Road East Fire. The third was another kitchen fire called in at 4:40pm, July 9th, on Grande Allée in Field. Loeffen says 3 stations attended, and that he puts the damage at $200,000.
The fourth fire was called in at 8:20 pm on July 10th, a shed fire on Fort Road near the Sturgeon River House Museum, which one station attended. The chief estimates only a $500 loss but is claiming arson as the cause. Investigation is ongoing.
The fifth blaze was another unattended cooking incident on Highway 64 in North Monetville. Three stations attended the 12:30 am call, July 11th, and Loeffen estimates $200,000 in damages. The sixth fire also happened on July 11th, at 5:20 pm. A power line had fallen on the tin roof of a building on Pierre Road, Sturgeon Falls. Two stations attended, and damages are estimated to be at $50,000.
Finally, the 7th fire is being deemed as suspicious. The fire department received a call at 4:30 pm July 15th, for a garbage bin on fire on Racette Road in Verner. One station attended, and damage is estimated at $1,000, as the bin was near a building.
Chief Loeffen gave insight on these incidents, starting with the cooking fires which were the most frequent causes. “So there’s a couple things we’re seeing happening here, one is stuff being placed around the stove or on the stove. The lesson here, don’t leave anything on the stove, don’t leave empty pots on the stove, keep your stove range clear,” he warns. Setting down grocery bags on your cooktop is also something he says people should avoid, as the items in your grocery bags can catch fire if your range happens to be turned on or still hot. He also mentions that pets jumping onto the stove and turning it on, or unknowingly not turning your burner off all the way could be the reason why things left unattended on a stovetop could catch fire. In one of the incidents this month, a person fell asleep while cooking. “Luckily there was a smoke alarm, and they woke up and got out,” says Loeffen, stressing the importance and life-saving benefits of having working smoke detectors.