In the winter of 1968 I was assigned a house fire case, while working as an Insurance Adjuster. The house was situated on a rural road north of Kenora and had been totally destroyed by fire.
I interviewed the husband in the hospital where he was being treated for serious burns to his face and hands. He had been babysitting three children while his wife drove into town to the laundromat. His youngest child was only a few months old while his second child was about five years old and she had a neighbor child, a similar aged boy visiting with her.
The father was a hard working pulpwood cutter and fell asleep on the downstairs couch. He was awakened by his daughter and her friend and found the house filling with smoke. The children had been playing in the upstairs main bedroom. The baby was in the children’s bedroom down the hall. The investigation later determined that the two older children were tearing up pieced of newspaper and using matches to set them on fire on top of the bed. When the quilt on the bed caught fire the room quickly filled with smoke. The children panicked and rushed downstairs to awaken the father.
He was awakened from a deep sleep with the children tugging on his arm. It took him a few moments to realize there was a fire upstairs and the baby was still it its room. He rushed up the stairs and rushed down to the end of the smoke filled hall. As he grabbed the baby and headed for the stairs the fire in the bedroom burst into flame. It was at that moment he realized the other two children had fallowed him upstairs. The smoke was getting very bad and he yelled at the children to follow him as he carried the baby downstairs to the living room.
Once he had the baby outside and he has stopped coughing, he saw the boy was safe but his daughter was missing. He immediate rushed backed into the smoke filled house and rushed upstairs. By then the flames were spreading out of the bedroom and into the hall. He had to push past the flames to reach his daughter’s bedroom but could not find her. By the time he escaped past the flames and smoke in the hall, his face and hands were badly burned and he collapsed on the ground in the yard.
By this time a passing motorist had gone to a phone and called the volunteer fired department. The flames quickly spread and house was totally burned to the ground. The father was taken to the hospital and the baby and young boy were uninjured.
Later it was determined that when the father went to rescue the baby, his daughter must have followed him and was left behind when he escaped with the baby. The little girl would have been suffocated by the smoke, before the fire reached her.
I was at the scene of the fire the next more and everything was reduced to a pile of ashes, contained by the walls of the basement. An Ontario Provincial Policeman was on the site and I was there when he located the remains of the little girl. All her extremities were burned off, leaving only the small body. It is one thing to read about a fatal fire in the newspaper but a dreadful reality to be present when a body is recovered.
While the father eventually recovered from his burns, he never really recovered from the loss of his child.