Christmas will be a tough one this year for a young Sackville mother and her three children, who lost everything except the clothes on their back during an early-morning fire that gutted their apartment building in downtown Sackville on Thursday afternoon.
“We lost everything,” said Sarah Tower. “All their Christmas toys, clothes, and just everything. All of our memories just went up in flames.”
Sarah had just returned from picking up their Christmas Cheer bags from the Sackville Community Association – which includes toys, mitts, clothes and pyjamas for all the kids – when the fire began.
It was Thursday afternoon at about lunchtime and her children’s father was there at the apartment to watch the kids while she went down to pick up the bags with her mom. Along with her three kids, her nephew was also there visiting.
Sarah had just set the kids down for a nap when Chadd came up the hall to ask what to cook for lunch. Before she could even reply, he said he smelled something burning.
“I jumped up and said to check the heaters and went to check my children’s room,” she said. “Then Chadd started yelling he sees smoke coming from under the door in the far back bedroom and ran in. He opened the door and it was nothing but black smoke throughout the house.”
Sarah picked up her nephew and handed him to Chadd and told him to go get Ivory, who was in the living room sleeping. She then grabbed her other two daughters, yelled for her two dogs and ran outside.
Once all the kids were safe outside with Chadd, Sarah decided to go back inside and see how bad it was and if she had any chance of stopping it. She ran to the bathroom and filled a bucket with water and threw it on the flames but by then it was simply too late.
“So I just left it and ran back outside, grabbing their coats on the way out the door, but couldn’t get anything else.”
Sarah yelled at Chadd to call 911 and to let the guy working downstairs know about the fire.
They quickly started putting jackets on the kids but realized the seven-month-old didn’t have her jacket, only a blanket, and her two-year-old didn’t have pants on. None of them had shoes on.
“I began to walk up the driveway and there was a nice lady walking over and she told us to come with her and brought us over to the Commons building, where she made sure we got blankets and everything to warm up the kids,” said Sarah.
She told Chadd to go get the dogs and he came back saying the dogs wouldn’t come.
“I ran out to see the dogs keep trying to go back to the building,” she said.
Once she called out to them, however, they both came running over to her and she put a leash on them and brought them over to a friend’s truck who had come to check to see if they were okay.
When she returned to the Commons, Sarah said she was heart-warmed by what she saw.
“I walked in and there were so many people in there already helping my kids and nephew and making sure they were all okay,” she said.
“There were so many nice people in the community who brought milk, diapers, and everything to make sure my kids didn't go without and I'm truly thankful for it. We have such an amazing community and I'm just so amazed how fast everyone came together because not even in like five minutes we were surrounded with people and everyone who was willing to help and it was just amazing to see how much these strangers who had never met me or my kids cared like they did.”
No one was injured in the fire but the building, located in behind the Sackville Commons building on Main Street, suffered extensive smoke and water damage from the blaze. The other three apartments in the former Kinsmen Club building were vacant at the time.
Canadian Red Cross volunteers have assisted the woman and her children – ages 3, 2 and seven months – with emergency lodging, food and clothing purchases.
Sackville Fire Chief Craig Bowser said his department received the 911 call around 1 p.m. and crews arrived on scene shortly after.
Upon arrival, the firefighters discovered heavy smoke billowing out of the eaves and quickly determined the fire appeared to have started at the rear of the property. Ensuring everyone was out of the building, crews then began to tackle the fire.
Bowser said the members entered through the front entry of the structure and also opened up ventilation through the roof, where aerial crews were able to attack the flames.
“The fire crews did a very good job of controlling and maintaining the fire throughout the event,” said Bowser.
A total of 32 firefighters – 29 from Sackville and three from Dorchester – were on scene throughout the afternoon.
“The fire was brought under control within one-and-a-half to two hours,” said Bowser. “Then we spent some time dousing hot spots and cleaning up . . . we were there until about 5.”
Bowser said the cause of the fire is under investigation by the provincial fire marshal, who was on scene Friday to inspect the site. Sarah believes the fire may have started with one of the baseboard heaters.
The Commons, at 64 Main Street, is serving as a drop-off point for donations, both of items and cash. The family is still in need of the following: baby formula for a seven-month old (Enfamil A+), size 4 diapers, size 4/5 pull-ups, girls clothing size 4t and 5t, baby girl clothing 12-18 mos, women's clothing small to medium, and men's clothing (lg shirt, 32X34 pants).