A Sylvan Lake-area family is slowly getting on with life after being saved from a home fire by passing motorists, who stopped in the wee hours of the morning on March 18.
The charred hulk of Greg and Shana Nicholls’ bi-level home remains on their property, located about 200 metres south of Hwy 11, on the west side of Range Road 20.
They were covered by insurance and plans are already being drawn to build a new home. They hope to have the burned out structure torn down in the next few weeks.
Shana said they could start to rebuild as soon as the end of May.
Until then Shana, Greg, their 14-year-old son Aden and Shana’s mother Valerie Gunning will live in their next door neighbour’s travel trailer.
A silent auction and benefit has been organized for the Nicholls. It’s set for April 25 from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. at the Sylvan Lake Community Hall.
“The support from the community has been absolutely overwhelming,” Shana said. “It made it so that the hardship was not nearly what it would have been.”
She said people they didn’t even know came with food, clothing, toiletries and blankets.
“It’s beyond overwhelming,” Valerie said. “I am totally stunned at the kindness and compassion and giving of this community.”
The family narrowly escaped a fire that started on their deck and quickly spread onto the roof of their home and then the rest of the structure.
Eckville area brothers Chris, 19, and Steven Rowe, 16, were driving along Hwy 11 at 1:15 a.m. on March 18, when they saw the fire and drove into Range Road 20 to see what was going on. They drove back to the highway to get the Range Road number and call 911.
John Brown, 47, of Rocky Mountain House, and Sheldon Friesen, 31, of Leslieville, were heading home from an Oilers game and saw the flames starting to engulf the home.
Brown and Friesen drove into the family’s yard, ran up to the house and Brown kicked down the door, yelling to them that their house was on fire.
The family, along with German shepherd Shyla, terrier-cross Brutus and cats Ziggy and Lucy made it out safely. They lost their cats Rags and Cuddles.
Since then a community effort has helped the Nicholls start to get back on their feet.
Shana said she is so grateful for the help neighbours Eric and Gayle Vollering and friends Kim and Mike Kirbyson have given them.
Aden’s soccer team Red Deer United Football Club and his school Fox Run School have chipped in.
Aden had a provincial soccer game to go to the weekend after the fire and teammates picked up gear and soccer shoes for him.
Valerie’s Sylvan Lake quilting group Quilters with Purpose came with casseroles and Greg’s colleagues at INXS Trucking and Unifeed have also helped.
Now Shana and her neighbour Gayle, who is the Coalition Against Poverty co-ordinator, are hoping they can find a way to put a program in place so that if a fire strikes another rural family, there will be measures in place to help them.
Gayle is hoping the benefit might also be a time to talk about setting up something to support rural families who have been left homeless by fire. She said the first few days after a fire are critical and many people don’t know that insurance doesn’t immediately kick in.
She said rural people can’t leave their property and animals behind to stay in a hotel.
She said there needs to be lodging on site available and other items like clothing and toiletries for families who are still in shock after a fire.
The couple, originally from lower mainland B.C., moved to the 40-acre property last July. They bought the ranch to start boarding horses and to have a cat kennel.
Shana said she doesn’t think they would have gotten the same kind of help in B.C. “Here people are coming out of the woodwork. We’re so thankful for that,” she said.