Employees from firstonsite Restoration survey the damage from a fire at 28 Clarence St. in Amherst Monday night. ANGUS MCPHAIL – AMHERST DAILY NEWS
AMHERST – Although most of their possessions were destroyed in the blaze, Erin Hawkes’s seven-year-old son was primarily concerned with his stuffed penguin.
“It’s his favourite toy,” his grandmother said.
The family was on the scene Tuesday, surveying the damage caused by Monday evening’s blaze. The boy’s mother was looking for the stuffed penguin. Most of the upper floor is charred black and has an acrid smell about it.
Fortunately, Hawkes exited the house carrying a soiled, but relatively unscathed penguin.
No one was injured but the house suffered severe damage in the blaze.
John Matthews, public information officer for the Amherst fire department, says the upper level of the house experienced extensive fire, heat, and water damage, and the bottom level has extensive smoke damage, the value of which is currently being assessed.
“Insurance adjustors have been on the scene (today).”
Firefighters were on the scene at 7 p.m. and battled the blaze for approximately three hours through harrowing conditions, Matthews said.
“The cold temperature and windy conditions did make it more difficult.”
Although the high winds did not blow the embers to the surrounding houses, cold temperatures and wind chill made the blaze more difficult to contain, he said.
“The icy condition adds a lot of weight to the equipment.”
The Canadian Red Cross was on the scene at the time, and provided personal-care kits and blankets for the family. Dan Bedell, director of public affairs for the Red Cross, says the family is currently staying with relatives.
“They rented the upper level. The owners who live on the main level were away at the time,” Bedell said.
The cause of the fire at 28 Clarence St. was not immediately apparent to firefighters and police, Bedell said.
“Amherst firefighters battling the blaze in minus 30 degree wind chill had to deal with the added challenges of rapidly freezing of spray from their hoses, and icy conditions on the ground.”
Lisa White, a friend of the house’s owner, was outside the home the next day and said Hawkes and her seven-year-old son were upstairs when a smoke detector alerted her to the blaze. The younger child was out of the house at the time.
Some of White’s possessions could be lost in the fire, too, she said.
“She’s my best friend…I’m here 95 per cent of the time.”
It was imperative the family had a smoke detector installed on every floor of the house, or the incident could have been even more tragic, Matthews said.
“Another few seconds could have made a huge difference.”
Firefighters are still investigating the cause of the blaze.