Tenants thankful to be safe after house fire destroys duplex in Fort Smith, N.W.T. | CBC News

Nearby construction may have saved Donna Bourque’s life. 

Bourque lost her home in a fire Saturday at the Garden City housing co-op. 

Weeks ago, she said, there was construction on the road behind her home. Usually she’d sit outside in the morning with a cup of coffee, but because of the noisy construction she found a new place to relax. 

On Saturday morning, she drove out to her newfound area of peace and quiet near the airport. 

A few hours later, she came back to flames and smoke pouring out of her home. 

“I walked out at 10 o’clock and locked the door, and I know I’ll never go back into it,” she said. 

Bourque has mobility issues. Had she still been home, she says she likely would not have made it out in time. 

“I wouldn’t have been able to get down the stairs,” she said. 

“The bathroom where the fire started in the other unit. Our bathrooms are like touching, a wall is between them. That’s where the fire started.” 

Harold and Albertine Gambler were renting the other unit. 

Theron Karnes, Bourque’s neighbour, was in his backyard when he saw a big cloud of smoke coming from the nearby duplex. He remembered Bourque struggled to get around. 

portrait of a man
Theron Karnes lives beside the housing co-op. He said he remembered Donna Bourque having mobility issues so he ran into the unit to try and find her. (Carla Ulrich/CBC)

“So I just ran right over and made sure no one was in the house because I know Donna can’t move that well,” he said. 

“I kicked the door in and I went upstairs, and by the time I got upstairs, the hallway was full of smoke. Then I said, ‘I’m getting out of here, I’m not spending anymore time in there.'” 

He went back outside, grabbed a garden hose and started spraying trees near the property to try and prevent them from catching fire. 

He said a power line had fallen and sparked. 

“That started to spread in the bush a little bit, but not too bad.” 

RCMP confirmed no injuries were reported in the incident. 

The Office of the Fire Marshal confirmed it is investigating the cause of fire. 

A new start 

Bourque kept moccasins made by her mother, and other gifts and “treasures” in her bedroom. 

“There was damage in the bedroom, so I don’t know if I can salvage it,” she said.

She’s thankful that the fire department has recovered some of her belongings; she said the Gamblers have lost everything. 

The community’s Pentecostal Church has started accepting donations on the Gamblers’ behalf. 

Bourque said the community immediately started to help her and the Gamblers. 

“Within about half an hour after I got to my niece’s, somebody had dropped off clothes,” she said. 

a burned building and car
Bourque also lost a vehicle in the fire. (Carla Ulrich/CBC)

Garden City also posted a statement to social media thanking the community for its contributions and acknowledging Bourque’s and the Gamblers’ loss. 

“While we cannot overlook the heartache of our members who lost everything they owned, we are immensely relieved to share that no one was hurt in this unfortunate incident,” it reads. “We want to express our deepest sympathies to our members who lost their homes.”

It also thanked the response from firefighters and community members. 

“Your bravery, swift response and relentless efforts were instrumental in containing the fire and preventing further damage.” 

Now, Bourque said she sees the tragedy as an opportunity to live without the burden of material possessions. 

“I’m good, right. I have my vehicle. I have money in the bank. I had insurance, so like, it’s time,” she said. 

Following her retirement in January, she’s now considering travelling more, and maybe moving to Alberta. 

“I said, ‘I’m going to turn the page,'” she said. “Like I’m a free bird. I’m going to use it that way.” 

Still, she said it was a traumatizing experience and she is thankful that neither she nor anyone else was hurt in the fire.

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