Rising from the ashes

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Mar 20, 2017 in Rat News | Subscribe


What would you grab if you had only minutes to rescue some possessions from your burning house?
For Tanya Reid-Emmell, the decision was easy, family photos, particularly one of her late parents embedded with their wedding bands. But as her Chamberlain Township home west of Englehart was razed to the ground during the early morning of Feb. 20, she couldn’t think what else among her belongings she should rescue. Even though fire fighters offered to make one more trip into the house to retrieve things, the lifelong Englehart area resident couldn’t name a single thing.
“You can’t think at a time like that,” she said in an interview with Northern News a week to the day her home was destroyed. “There’s so much (inside a home.) But there’s nothing worth risking someone’s life.”
While Reid-Emmell was able to escape uninjured with most of her pets – three dogs, a cat and two pet rats – one cat remains missing. The likely cause of the fire was build-up in the chimney of the 1920s era remote home.
Having just returned home from square dance practice, Reid-Emmell stocked the stove and went to bed. But sometime around 2 a.m. with an odd burning smell in the air, she checked to find the chimney was very hot and outside there were flames coming from it. Living alone with her pets, she opted to phone a friend for some advice and put some water in the stove in the hope the resulting steam would extinguish any embers higher up in the chimney.
“I didn’t want to go back to sleep,” she said. “But I had blocked the air and figured it had to go out. It can’t go anywhere.”
Her friend eventually came over and together they continued to monitor the situation until by 6 a.m. things took a turn for the worse and emergency rescue crews were called in. Unbeknownst to them, the fire had been gaining a foothold in the attic and was now a raging inferno.
Reid-Emmell said it’s bizarre what goes through your mind at a time like that, as you watch your home burn to the ground. Trying to prevent herself from becoming overcome with grief, she resorted to humor.
“I told myself, I always wanted a skylight in my bedroom,” she said with a wistful laugh. “But there’s no bed, everything is in the basement (now.)”
Despite the best efforts of fire crews who responded within minutes and probably made an estimated 10 trips for water by Reid-Emmell’s estimation, the house was beyond saving.
“A bit of the back wall and chimney are left,” she said, adding there was no fire insurance on the home.
The mother of four said the loss of the family homestead has hit her children hard, but fortunately none were present on the night of the fire. Two are away at college and the other two stay in town with their father.
“At least we had one last good Christmas,” she said, noting the whole family was able to gather there back in December.
The surviving pets, she said, seem a little out of sorts in their new surroundings at her step-mother’s house where she is now staying.
“I think they’re feeling a little lost,” she said.
Through the whole horrific experience, Reid-Emmell said the generosity of family, friends and especially strangers, has been a revelation.
“There are amazing people around here,” she said, “It’s kind of overwhelming. All these strangers helping.
Reid-Emmell said her neighbours in particular have been so helpful, as well as friends who took care of her immediate needs after the fire, providing pet food, and basic necessities such as a toothbrush.
“You don’t even think of food at a time like that,” she said.
Friends as far away as Kirkland Lake have taken up the cause to help her, with local resident  Jessica Loranger having begun to stockpile donations in her basement.
Despite the best intentions of some helpful people, Reid-Emmell is deeply grateful, but noted she hasn’t been able to accept some of their generous donations. “Some people want to give me furniture, but I have nowhere to put it,” she said. “I don’t need things like dishes or pots or pans yet.”
One generous local resident has come forward to offer use of her garage to store donations received so far, but space is limited to store donations.
With the initial shock of the incident receding, Reid-Emmell said she’s beginning to pick up the pieces and is grateful for the ongoing support. Her goal now is to try to gather enough funds for a down payment on a new home somewhere in the region. With just a part-time job as a custodian and another seasonal job, she isn’t sure yet if she’ll be able to arrange the financing for a mortgage for a new home.
The generosity of area residents is already evident on that front, with a gofundme page already set up on the internet and a fundraising dance being organized by relatives for March 18 at the Englehart Legion. Admission will be $5 per person at the door, and there will be a variety of fundraising activities as part of the evening, which begins at 7:30 p.m.
“I’m shocked, I don’t even know how to express my gratitude,” Reid-Emmell said. “It’s one of the great things living in a small town.”

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