A volunteer firefighter in Sylvan Lake says losing her home in last month’s four-building inferno has taught her to relate better to victims of such disasters.
Ashley McWade, 21, was working at Boston Pizza on the evening of May 18 when she was alerted that the house she shares with her landlord was in flames.
“I got some clothes out of the house, I got pictures, that’s pretty much all I grabbed,” said McWade.
“It was definitely hard. I think it was hard for (other firefighters) too, knowing that it was my house. I know they did their best, despite what people say I know they did everything they could.”
McWade went back to the fire hall with her comrades after the fire was subdued to mull things over. Unbeknownst to her, the other volunteers started a fire hall fundraising campaign and presented her with the profits to help her get back on her feet.
“Basically I’ve been offered anything I need. It’s been awesome,” said McWade, whose former school, Fox Run School, also raised money to provide her with bedding.
She’s now staying with a friend and looking for a new place to live.
Other residents of the four houses are looking to start from scratch on the same site.
“We’re going to rebuild on that spot and I think we’re going to change our house plan a little bit. Try something a little different,” said Grant Hreherchuk, whose former home sat at the corner of Wildrose Drive and Wilkinson Circle. They start clearing the debris from the lot this week.
Grant, wife Tanya and their two sons, ages 14 and 18, are now living in a hotel, about to move into a rental house. Speaking with his insurance and building companies, Grant reckons his family will be in their new home in four to six months.
“It’s been a little weird,” said Grant. “(Tanya) has done her crying. The biggest thing now is the insurance company wants us to make lists. . . . It’s almost like reliving it, line-item by line-item.
“You’ve got to think about what you’ve lost and will never be around again.”
Grant said the determination made public late last week that the fire likely started accidentally when a wayward ember from a fire pit next door ignited nearby combustibles is “a little hard.”
“I don’t know, we’ve all been raised (to) douse a fire, stir and douse it again,” Grant said. “We’re just confused a little. Not mad. A little more precaution, maybe, and we wouldn’t be dealing with this kind of a loss.”
Patti Johnson lived in the house next door, owned by her father, with her two sons and one of her son’s friends.
“We’re just living with family. The insurance company is slow, but we’re moving forward,” said Johnson, who declined to comment on the finding that the fire is believed to have started on her home’s rear deck until she speaks with her insurance company about the matter.
“As far as I know, we’re going to rebuild.”
The Sylvan Lake and Area Community Partners Association has been the focal point for people wanting to help the families affected by the fire. Association chairman Dale Plante said that a benefit dance at the Legion raised more than $7,000, a bottle drive in Sylvan and Red Deer raised more than $6,000, that more than $2,200 in gift cards had been donated, and that they received more than 100 pieces of furniture, from sofas to full kitchen sets. This is just a sampling of what has been done.
An emergency relief fund made possible by the public good will has been set up to aid relief efforts for future tragedies.
“Now we can become a lot more proactive, rather than just reactive, on this type of stuff,” said Plante.
He added that the fire, unique in scale in the town’s history, has helped sharpen the skills of community organizations like his to deal with the fallout.