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Community rallies for fire victim

Imagine watching your home burn to the ground before your eyes. For Adrian Morton, this image became real the afternoon of May 12.
Adrian Morton lost his home in a fire on May 12.
Adrian Morton lost his home in a fire on May 12.

Imagine watching your home burn to the ground before your eyes. For Adrian Morton, this image became real the afternoon of May 12.

He was changing the CV joint on his car at his home seven miles north of LaCorey when the sparks ignited the grass below, he told the Nouvelle.

After trying to put the sparks out with a rake, he grabbed a garden house.

"But I just couldn't keep up to it with a half inch garden hose," he explained.

He called 911, and the Iron River Fire Department was on the scene 15 minutes later, but it was too late to salvage the house.

Morton explained how his home is "100 per cent, totally gone - plus barn, corrals, granaries, two tractors, one cat."

Morton lived alone and no one was inside at the time. His home and property were not insured.

He said there was a fire at his property in the early 1980's, but his insurance company did not cover the damage because the property was located over five miles from a fire department.

"I used to be a believer in insurance," he said, but after receiving no compensation, he let his policy run out.

Local residents came together the evening of June 3 for a potluck supper and benefit at LaCorey Hall to help Morton. About 100 people attended and nearly $9,500 was raised through a silent auction. Items and cash were donated by local residents and businesses and all the proceeds went directly to Morton.

Mary Anne Leroux organized the event after she and her husband met with Morton after the fire.

"He was just really devastated," she said.?

They offered him a small trailer to stay in, but Morton was staying with his neighbour.

"My husband comes in and he said, 'We should do something for Adrian because he lost everything and he doesn't have any insurance,'" Leroux explained. "So that's how it started."

The use of the hall was free along with the musical entertainment. The word spread and people started donating silent auction items.

Leroux said the support from Morton's family, local businesses and residents was very good.

She said she was "happy that we got support from the community and that we can help somebody out that's in need."

Iron River fire chief Gordon Graves and his crew were the first on the scene when the fire began at Morton's property.

When they arrived, the west end of the house was pretty much engulfed in flames, Graves explained.

"But we couldn't get to it because of the grass fire."

They managed to put the grass fire out and once their big truck arrived, it was able to go around and start working to put out the fire in the house. Firefighters from LaCorey also arrived on the scene.

Graves called in for backup and soon after firefighters from Bonnyville, Ardmore as well as two crews and two helicopters from Alberta Forestry arrived. Two tankers outside of the department also helped haul water.

"With that many units fighting fire and it's that hot, you need a lot of water."

A neighbour with a Cat also came to help.

"Between the helicopters and the Cat, that was probably the biggest help we could've had," Graves explained.

He said the helicopters were able to spray water into parts of the house firefighters on the ground couldn't access. "That was just a super, super bonus," he said.

The circumstances made it tough to put out the fire as the house was old with asphalt siding and sawdust insulation that when set on fire, cannot be put out, Graves said.

"We put a lot of water in there. We tried," he said. "With the way the wind was blowing and as dry as it was, it was difficult to do anything. And being an old yard with lots of fuel for the fire, made it even worse."

Aside from outbuildings and tires, there were various sized propane tanks in the yard, which concerned Graves and the other firefighters, who feared a boiling liquid evaporating vapour explosion.

"We were pretty careful to make sure that we hosed the living daylights out of that before we approached them," he said. "Number one is always your own safety and the safety of others, so we took that tact at it."

He noted how extremely hot the fire was, which he attributed to the asphalt siding, sawdust insulation and the fact it was an old, dry house. Firefighters had a hard time walking up to the house, he added. The lot also had old trees that were dead in the middle, which concerned them.

"The fire went in and up the inside like a chimney and came out the top," Graves explained.

The Cat was used to take many down, while a power saw was used on a few.

"Our response time was pretty good, it was the circumstances," said Graves. "It was the worst possible conditions we could've had in the worst possible place it could've been."

He said Morton "made the cardinal mistake, but the common mistake of trying to put it out himself."

Graves said farmers often do their own repairs, but "if the conditions are just so, it becomes a whole other scenario. And this is one of those."

He said Morton could have done the same thing a few days prior when it was not as dry and had no problems.

"It was just the right time and the right conditions for things to go sideways. There's a warning there for everybody."

As for Morton, he is currently staying with a neighbour, but said he will rebuild.

He said it felt good to have the support of the community, but he "wasn't expecting it."

Despite difficult circumstances, the community seems to have proven good neighbours can help make those situations a little less tough to bear.