HUNTSVILLE - Like most blazes, the heat from the fire that took the Utterson home of Bart Knox and Sarah Sturgeon was intense and unyielding.
The home of Bart Knox and Sarah Sturgeon is seen here in a photo from the Huntsville Fire Department during the Jan. 23 fire that took the Utterson couple’s home. The community is rallying to assist the young family.
However, that destructive heat has since been replaced with the warmth of the community, which has rallied to help the homeless couple and their burgeoning family, which includes two young children and one more on the way.
The couple lost their home in the early hours of Jan. 23, the result of a chimney fire in the old farmhouse they had been renovating that once belonged to Knox’s great grandfather.
“We have had the house for about eight years now. It had been passed down through the family for about four generations and it was built about 1854,” Sturgeon said.
They were in the process of renovating the home so that it could be properly insured. They had it re-wired, drywalled and it was almost ready for the insurance coverage and they had just purchased all new major appliances, according to Sturgeon.
“We were really close to having it ready,” she said. “All we had to do was the trim and flooring and the electrical. We were months away from getting it finished.”
But the dreams of having their own home came crashing down that fateful morning two weeks ago.
Sturgeon said that the family had been heating their home with two woodstoves rather than use the more expensive oil and electric heating systems. Both stoves were going that night because that particular evening was the coldest one to date this winter, with temperatures in the minus 38 degrees Celsius range.
She said that she filled the woodstoves around midnight and stoked the fires again about an hour later. Then about 20 minutes after Sturgeon checked the fires, the smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector both started to ring.
“I went out to check the one fire and it was fine, and I check the other one and looked up in the ceiling where there is a cold air return and could see the fire coming from the chimney.”
Sturgeon said it wasn’t a dirty chimney that caused the blaze, but rather the old wood venting was what caught on fire.
Both Knox and Sturgeon attempted to douse the flames with water, and Knox attempted to cut the chimney out to put snow on the fire but both attempts failed. The family then fled from the house and got into their truck after calling 911.
Sturgeon said once the children were in the truck, she and Knox tried one more time to douse the fire, but their young son ended that attempt when he called them back to the truck, saying “Mom, dad, get in here,” according to Sturgeon.
By the time the fire trucks arrived some 40 minutes after the call was made, the house was fully engulfed in flames.
Sturgeon said she couldn’t bear to watch any longer once they realized saving the house was pointless. “We were all so cold, we asked around two or three if we could leave ... we didn’t want to watch our home burn to the ground. There was nothing anyone could do ... the wood was just so old. Now there is just the foundation and blocks. There’s nothing … nothing,” she said sadly.
The family went to the home of Sturgeon’s mother in Novar to spend the rest of the night and contemplate what they would do next. To make matters worse, Sturgeon said Knox was expecting to be laid off next month from his logging job.
But help was not long in coming as the Salvation Army in Huntsville put the family into an apartment the very next day, where they’ll be staying for the next month or so.
Sturgeon said a family friend is loaning them a house trailer to live in starting the end of March until they can arrange financing to rebuild on their property.
To assist the family with their needs, two trust funds have already been established.
One is with the Huntsville branch of the Bank of Montreal, located at 91 King Street Huntsville. Anyone wishing to donate can do so to account 3992271, Bart Knox and Sarah Sturgeon.
Sturgeon said on Monday they were not sure how much money was in the account, but did say the Rotary Club of Huntsville has donated $500 to the couple.
Also, the Home Depot in Huntsville is accepting Home Depot Gift Cards on behalf of the family for their replacement home building supplies.
Sturgeon said that Legion Branch 232 in Huntsville is allowing them to use their hall for a fundraising dance on March 23.
She said that the family is doing okay, but she admits that it has been a very trying time for the couple since the fire.
“It’s really hard. It is always going to be emotional at times. But we are looking forward and trying to stay positive for the days to come.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us.”