Blaze guts Elmira home
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Blaze guts Elmira home

A tire swing hangs from a tall tree in the front lawn of a home at 17 Duke St. in Elmira, but rather than the typical pile of fallen leaves and some leftover Halloween decorations, alongside it are crisp burnt flowers and broken glass.

An old fluorescent light fixture is believed to be the cause of a fire that started in the kitchen during the early hours of last Saturday morning. The residents, a family who had just purchased the house in July, was forced to flee their home.

Fire completely destroyed the interior of the old home at 17 Duke St. in Elmira on Nov. 7.
Fire completely destroyed the interior of the old home at 17 Duke St. in Elmira on Nov. 7.

Jeff Sharwood and Isabella Jajkowska, along with their pet dog managed to escape unharmed, though pet tortoises were destroyed in the fire. Their daughter had spent the night at her grandparent’s house and was not present when the fire broke out.

Woolwich Township deputy fire chief Dale Martin said  the homeowners reported the blaze just before 3:30 a.m. By the time the firefighters arrived, the flames had travelled into the attic and were “rolling out through the front door.”

The couple’s neighbour, Sharon Hollinger, heard the police cars and fire trucks pull up outside her home after she had gone to bed for the night.

“I ran downstairs, looked out the side window and the two windows facing us were totally engulfed in flames.”

Going out onto the street to see what had happened, Hollinger met with several other concerned neighbours, while the couple waited in the police car with only the clothes they were wearing and items they had time to take from the house before leaving.

“The fire seemed pretty hard to control,” said Hollinger. “It would look like it was out and then it would start up again. It moved very quickly.”

Firefighters from Elmira, Floradale and Conestogo were on scene until midmorning, and the couple was taken in by a neighbour for the night. Waterloo Regional Police Cst. Paul Rabidoux of the Elmira detachment arrived on scene and could hear windows shattering and the house creaking. He noted that vast amounts of flames were coming from the rear windows and that he could see smoke coming from the roof of the home.

“The firefighters worked so hard. They were out there for hours and they didn’t stop. It’s amazing how hard they were working,” Hollinger noted.

Although the family was not available to comment, Hollinger said that they seemed to be in a state of disbelief about the whole situation.

“They said, ‘You hear about this type of thing on the news or you read about it, but you never think it is going to happen to you.’”

The couple was lucky in one way: they had been entertaining friends for the evening and had not yet gone to bed when the smoke alarm went off in the kitchen.

“I hate to think what could have happened if they had been asleep,” said Hollinger.

The damage to the home is extensive, said Mike Kondrat of Strone Restoration who was at the home on Tuesday morning to more thoroughly board up the windows. He noted that the inside of the building is almost completely gutted, and the remaining structures have been damaged from all the water from the fire hoses.

“It’s going to be a tough battle for them, there is just so much to fix.”

Kondrat said that in cases such as this one it is difficult to determine whether to try and restore the home to its original state, or start building a new structure altogether. Damage is estimated at $300,000.

Duke Street resident Janet Morlock said the fire has made her think about how safe her home would be if the same thing were to happen.

“We have bought new batteries for our smoke detectors right away,” Morlock said. “This has really heightened our awareness of the safety precautions.”

Already, the neighbours have expressed their care and concern for the couple and are looking for ways they may be able to help out.

“We want to help where we can but we also want to give them the space that they need. They need to deal with this in their way. Everyone deals with things in different ways.”

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