A elderly couple has lost everything but the clothes they were wearing after their mobile home caught fire on Jan. 20. Fortunately for Kevin and Kathleen Coughlan, they were both able to get out of the house safely. Grand Forks Fire/Rescue were able to also save the couple’s pet dog and cat, but were unable to save the home.
“We got called yesterday (Jan. 20) at around 5:30 p.m. to an electical short and a bang,” said Dale Heriot, Grand Forks Fire/Rescue chief. “I proceeded up there and called one engine up there. When I got there I saw smoke coming out of the vent. It was a single, mobile home with another roof and carport built over top of it.”
Heriot said he asked the occupants to leave the trailer and head to the neighbours. “It was a very difficult fire to fight,” he said. “It was right in both the trailer roof and the roof they put over top. It was a real tough one. We finally left the scene about 12:30 a.m.”
Heriot added that the fire department couldn’t even get a truck up the driveway due to the amount of snow which had accummulated. “We certainly had some challenges with the rural setting in the winter time, and the snow,” he said. “Their driveway wasn’t plowed so we had to lay a line and pump water up from Son Ranch Road. We had to get Emcon to come sand the road twice because a couple of our apparatus were having trouble with traction. It was a difficult fire to fight.”
Although not burnt down, the house was a write-off with all the water and smoke damage. “We had to pull the whole ceiling inside,” said Heriot. “Some of the trusses in the home were burnt through. The mobile home will be a total loss. Between that and the contents, I would say there is a couple hundred thousand dollars in damage.”
“The owner even had gunpowder and ammunition there,” he said. “He had enough sense to tell us where that was and we had crews go in and get that out.”
On the night of the fire, the couple first noticed a lot of smoke, which they first thought was coming from their woodstove.
“We thought the woodstove was heating up excessively,” said Kevin. “I went over and checked the chimney and found it was hot but not really burning hot. I shut the wheels on the front and went and sat down for awhile. We noticed that there was not just a heat smell but also a sour smell like plastic or rubber burning.”
“We couldn’t figure out what it was,” said Kathleen.
Kevin said he tapped the stove to gauge the heat and found it was actually cooling down. “I then heard a crackling sound followed by a big bang,” he said. “I went into the kitchen and she had the stove on so I checked to see if there was anything wrong with that.”
Shortly after, Kevin figured that a breaker went off because the house had lost all power. “We went outside and I checked the electric meter,” he said. “I pulled the ladder forward and Kath said she could see smoke throught the windows.”
It was around that time that Kathleen called 9-1-1 with the intention of having them call the power company. “It was a really bad smell by then,” said Kathleen. “I asked them to call hydro because the fire was smoking right up to the power box. 9-1-1 must have called the fire department. It’s a good thing they did.”
Kevin said the fire crews arrived shortly after and the couple were told to go down to the main road. “I was talking to the hydro guy and as far as we knew no one had called the fire brigade but evidently they had been called,” he said. “The hydo guy told me to move my car and truck out of the way and by the time I did the fire brigade had arrived. Kath had come back from feeding the animals and still had on her rubber boots.”
The couple said they were able to walk through the remains of the home the following day with the fire department to see if anything was salvageable. Kathleen said she was able to recover some rings and other jewellery but most everything else was too smoke-damaged to salvage. “We lost our home and all we have left is the barn and the chicken coop,” she said. “We couldn’t stay in there too long, it smelled so bad.”
The cause of the fire was determined to be an electrical short in the wiring in the roof.
Despite losing most of their possessions, the Coughlans are happy to be safe as they try to figure out their next step. They are also very pleased with the help that the community has given so far. The pair, and their pets, have been staying at a neighbours since the fire. The couple, who have been in the same place for close to 25 years, are in their 70s and on a fixed pension. They did not have fire insurance and are currently trying to figure out what they will do next.
Helping get the couple set up for the 72 hours following the fire was Jane Pring with the provincial emergency services program. After that time it is the Red Cross that will step up and help. The Coughlans will be put up in a motel until the end of January. After that, they will have to decide what to do next. They would like to move to 100 Mile House to be close to family.
“We’re trying to find some place to stay after that,” said Kevin. “What we’d like to do is sell it and get out of here. We’ve got a son in 100 Mile House. He’s the only relative even remotely close. We’d like to move up there so that if anything like this happens again…”
“We’re not getting any younger,” said Kathleen. “Our neighbours and everyone in the community has been fantastic. Everyone is trying to kick in to help us as best they can to help us get through this.”
Pring says that the Provincial Emergency Program takes care of anyone for the first 72 hours after they have lost their home due to fires or floods. “That entails accommodation, clothing, meds, food and so on,” she said. “After that if they have insurance, their insurance company takes over. If they don’t have insurance it’s basically the community who steps in and helps these people.”
There is a bank account set up at the Grand Forks Credit Union under the name Peter Smith, a local resident and friend of theirs who set the account up to help the couple. All the money from the account will go to the Coughlans to help them rebuild their lives.