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Residents move back into EDCL group home destroyed by fire last spring

Almost a year after fire destroyed the EDCL group home on First Street in Elmira, residents are moving back in. [Damon MacLean]

Almost a year after fire levelled an Elmira District Community Living group home, the structure has been rebuilt and residents are moving back in.

Rodger Hanna, manager of residential services for EDCL, remembers that May afternoon vividly

“We were in the middle of a lockdown – the pandemic first stages, the first wave of it. The fire actually started in the shed, which was at the side here where our garbage was stored, spread from there to the roof of the house and went very quickly from there. Everybody who was here, there would have been five individuals home at the time and three staff in the building, and they all got out. I feel like they got out just in the nick of time, because there was flame over the door, right after they got out,” he recalled this week.

“We got nothing out of this house. I mean, we went in, the [firefighters] went in at one point in time and got us a few of the files and the books and stuff like that, but not very much,” said Hanna.

“We were able to retrieve one prized possession, a stuffed dog, because the insurance company went in and took pictures after the fire. The individual who lost the dog, we went through the pictures, and we were able to locate it in the pictures. I told the insurance company and they went and retrieved it and then we washed it. So, he still has it,” added services director Sarah Cadeau.

Damage to the building was estimated at $750,000.

“The whole place was uninhabitable,” said Hanna, noting that immediate action was taken to find the five men temporary homes.

“We had to find places for them to stay, so the immediate thing that we did was [use] an empty day-program building where everybody went, except for one of them – the other four guys went there. And they stayed there for a couple of weeks while Sarah and I went around and tried to find places for the other guys to go,” he said, explaining that longer-term homes were eventually found for all five residents.

The process of rebuilding the facility would have been a large undertaking under normal circumstances, but the pandemic made it all the more complicated.

“It’s very difficult to coordinate as [supplies] would come because they couldn’t be delivered to a building site. I had to find a place for things to be stored as we were getting stuff in, and that was not easy. And then everywhere that was bringing things had COVID protocols in effect,” said Hanna.

“Normally when you buy furniture from a furniture store, they set it up for you, but they couldn’t do that this time. So now that the furniture came in pieces, and then we had to set it up when it came here. Because months had gone by and between ordering the furniture and setting it up in here, and there was such an amount of furniture to buy, it was difficult to remember which went for which [room] and that kind of thing. But it all worked out.”

While rebuilding the home, EDCL made some changes and additions. A side deck was installed, for instance, because some of the residents enjoyed using the front porch at the temporary home where they stayed. As well, the living room is now facing the street, and the basement kitchen is more open. 

While there are still a few little finishes remaining, Hanna said the residents are happy to be back home, even if the place is a little different than when they left it.

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