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Family home lost in late night fire

Meredith Kerr Journal Staff A family of seven who lived south of Elk Point have moved into a rental property in town after a fire destroyed their home in the morning hours of Feb. 12.

Meredith Kerr

Journal Staff

A family of seven who lived south of Elk Point have moved into a rental property in town after a fire destroyed their home in the morning hours of Feb. 12. The family, along with their two dogs, a Golden Retriever cross and a German Shepherd cross, are both safe.

John Neufeld discovered the fire around 1:30 a.m.

“I could see flames and hear the crackling of the wood burning. I was so shocked, I looked outside and see a big fire right outside my window. I woke everybody up and ran downstairs and it was the doghouse on fire,” said Neufeld.

Asleep in the home at the time of the fire were Abe (48) and Anna (44) Neufeld, and their five children, John (24), Agatha (22), Abe Jr. (17), Anna (15), and Corny (10). Margaret Reddekopp (26) also lives with the family. She was working a night shift at the Elk Point Heritage Lodge when the fire happened.

“We ran and got a fire extinguisher, and we got most of it out. The house was just about out, but then we ran out of fire extinguisher and there was still fire inside the doghouse. That restarted again and after that, we couldn’t do nothing. Just ran back inside and grabbed our small possessions we thought were valuable and some clothes and ran outside and watched her burn,” said Neufeld.

Asked what he grabbed from his room before leaving the house, Neufeld said, “I’m just starting to fly, with my pilot’s license and stuff. So I grabbed my logbook for my aircraft that I bought. It comes with two logbooks so one got burned, and I grabbed my headset to fly the aircraft, and my bible.”

His sister Anna, 15, took her guitar and a photograph of their grandparents from Bolivia. The Neufelds emigrated from Bolivia to Manitoba in 2003 before moving to the Two Hills area in 2008. They had been living in the house south of Elk Point for just shy of two years.

According to Neufeld, they believe the cause of the fire was a heat lamp inside the doghouse.

“It’s been cold these last few weeks and our dogs were outside farm dogs, but they were cold. So we figured we’d get something going for them so they could get it warmer. So we got a nice heat bulb system with a metal frame around it, very safe, we thought it was very safe. And we hung it up in there,” said Neufeld. He wasn’t sure if there had been a short in the circuit or if the lamp had simply overheated.

According to Peter Hewitt, the chief of the Elk Point Fire Department, the structure was fully engulfed when the department arrived.

“They fought the fire as best they could, but that’s it. They were hampered by the cold obviously, temperatures were close to -40C by the time they got there,” said Hewitt.

Hewitt didn’t have the exact time the fire department arrived on scene available to him at the time of the interview, but he said the initial call came in at approximately 2:40 a.m., on Feb. 12. He was not one of the members to respond and could only comment on what he had been told after the fact.

According to Hewitt, the fire was a total loss. “The only thing that got saved was the garage.”

“There was a shortage of water. One of our drivers returned to the hall four times to fill up with water and St. Paul as well returned to our hall to fill up. There was no fire hydrants out there,” said Hewitt.

St. Paul Fire Chief Trevor Kotowich confirmed two firefighters from St. Paul responded with a tanker truck under the mutual aid agreement they have with the Elk Point Fire Department.

Hewitt said Elk Point is thankful St. Paul was able to assist. “Especially at that time of day. We’re a volunteer fire department, so out of 18 members, we can’t always all respond.”

Asked if the cold weather changed the way the fire department approached the fire, Hewitt said it didn’t impact what they actually did to fight it.

“We have to make sure our vehicles are thawed out, make sure we have enough coolant and antifreeze in the lines. Being as cold as that, we have to take many breaks, take turns on the gun, just to be on the safe side. We’ve had incidents in the last three days with traffic accidents where we’ve had to be in and out of the trucks more than we’re used to,” said Hewitt.

Since the fire, the Neufelds have received help from the Elk Point community and from their church, Hillside Christian Fellowship in Willingdon.

“They’ve set up a WhatsApp group to ask for stuff like beds and stuff to lend and to give to us for the time period we need until we get a new house built on that other property from the insurance company,” said Neufeld.

“Bumper to Bumper donated shoes, work shoes for us, the steel toed boots so we can stay working,” said Neufeld, who works at Hahn Welding and Oilfield Services.

He said the Red Cross was able to get them set up in a motel the night of the fire and the community of Elk Point helped them find a home to live in for the foreseeable future. Staff at Servus Credit Union collected clothes and toys for his brothers, while Rona donated new cords to plug their vehicles in.

One of the firefighters from the Elk Point Fire Department is taking care of the family's dogs.

“A big thank you for all the people who’ve given us their support. We just pray God will bless them all, because we really appreciate all the help that’s been given to us. There’s not many words that can speak how big the thank you is for all that,” said Neufeld.

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