Golden Lake – A young family of four who had only recently moved into their new home on Golden Lake in the Ruby area of Bonnechere Valley (BV) Township escaped a possible fiery fate last Wednesday night when fire razed the residence just before midnight.

Ryan and Andrea Rathwell and their two sons, Jarred, 13, and Nolan, 10, moved into their new home at 71 Richards Lane a mere two weeks ago and late Wednesday night they were forced to flee the structure as firefighters from both the BV and North Algona Wilberforce (NAW) Fire Departments arrived to battle the stubborn blaze that caused heavy damage to the structure.

NAW Captain Ted Browne said their department is first response to that area, explaining the initial page for the fire came in at approximately 11:57 p.m.

“First it came over twice as a house fire on pages,” he said of the initial dispatch. “Then the third page said it was a chimney fire, not a structure fire.

“When I arrived, flames had breached the whole peak of the roof,” he added.

He said the family was outside at that point and notified him everyone was out of the residence.

Capt. Brown said there was a narrow driveway leading to the home, so he parked his personal vehicle at the end of the road and as he was doing that, the first pumper was arriving.

“By the time I got back down there, the house was fully involved,” he explained. “It had flashed over.”

He estimated that only five minutes had elapsed from his arrival to that point, so the fire was spreading rapidly.

“Our pumper was first on scene and we ran a hose line and tried to knock it down,” he said. “But very quickly, we went into a defensive attack instead of an offensive attack because of the conditions.

“We never really did get inside,” he added. “We got just inside the front door, but we couldn’t go in and do an interior attack due to the flames, smoke and heat.”

Capt. Brown said firefighters cut a hole in the gable end of the attached garage because there was heavy smoke starting to come out.

“We did save the garage part of it by cutting the hole and applying water in the attic to knock the flames down. There will be some smoke and water damage.”

Initially NAW had two pumpers, a tanker, and rescue unit with 10 personnel from the Golden Lake station on scene. Just over an hour later, he requested manpower and air bottles from the Rankin Station.

“They came with the rescue vehicle and utility vehicle and seven personnel,” he reported.

He said the weather was horrible with heavy snow at times causing dangerous driving conditions.       

“It was pretty windy that night, which didn’t help, but the snow was crazy for a while.”

He said it got very muddy at the scene. Renfrew County paramedics were on scene, but no injuries were reported to his knowledge.

Capt. Brown said they were relieved from the scene by BV firefighters at about 5:30 Thursday morning.

“We did get called back there Saturday afternoon for a flare-up. It was very small; we weren’t there very long.”

BV Station 2 Capt. Mike Felske was first on scene and arrived minutes before Capt. Browne  noting the latest page he heard while enroute was for a chimney fire.

“There was about three feet of flames or glowing along the ridge cap when I first arrived,” he said. “So I called dispatch and said it wasn’t a chimney fire it was an actual structure fire.

“Then 15 or 20 minutes later the whole top of the one roof was going and there were flames coming out.”

Capt. Felske said it was a very difficult fire to attack due to the construction of the home.

“The attack was real tough because it was an ICF construction (cement walls to the ceiling),” he explained. “And then it had a steel roof, so to actually get water to it wasn’t very easy.

“That was one of the biggest problems,” he added. “We couldn’t actually go into the building because the roof was compromised and could have come down any second. No firefighters could do entry on that.”

He re-iterated they concentrated on an exterior attack, keeping a safe distance from the structure in case the roof did collapse.

Capt. Felske described the house as a bungalow-style with a walk-out basement and a two-bay attached garage.

A portable pump was set up to draw water from Golden Lake to feed water directly into their tanker, which in turn was feeding the first NAW pumper on scene.

“We were using their truck as the attack pumper,” he remarked.

He agreed the weather was atrocious.

“Driving to it was pretty slippery because of the snow,” he said. “The guys could only do 35 kilometres coming down from Foymount.”

Two Call Backs

Capt. Felske said personnel returned to the scene on two occasions, one Thursday night around 6 p.m. and again on Saturday around 3:30. He and two firefighters returned Thursday with a pumper after the homeowner notified him of a concern.

“I went out with two personnel and put out a couple hot spots,” he said.  “Then on Saturday, we went back and there was one little smoking spot around a door frame.”

NAW was also notified of Saturday’s call and responded.     

He said the cause of the fire was undetermined, noting the homeowner said they heard “crackling” in the attic.

“I just assumed from that the fire had been going in the attic for some time. Not hours, but awhile.

“Once they heard the crackling, they got everybody out, and then the smoke alarms started going off,” he added.   

 Homeowners  Alerted By Crackling Noise

Andrea Rathwell spoke with The Leader Monday and said they had been living in their new home for about two weeks. They had just unloaded their sea-can storage unit the previous Friday.

She said they had left the house around 6:30 to pick up their son, Jarred, at a friend’s hunt camp and returned home about 10:30 and had put some extra wood in the fireplace on the main floor.

“We were in bed probably between 10:45 and 11 o’clock and I heard, almost like light thunder sound rumbling and woke Ryan up and asked what that was.”

Mr. Rathwell assumed it was the sound of the fireplace, which backs onto their bedroom wall, getting rolling.

“So, I went back to sleep but don’t know for how long. Then something said ‘you need to get up, something’s not right’.

“I got up and I could hear crackling and thought a log had pushed the door open, which is not even possible anymore,” she added. 

As she exited the bedroom, the crackling intensified and once she got to the living room which has a cathedral ceiling, she could see a glow above the drywall where the trim had not yet been installed.

“I could see into the attic and it was just an orange glow,” she said.

She yelled for her husband and they realized the danger, going to a bedroom on the first floor to waken Nolan, then downstairs to wake Jarred to exit the house. She said Nolan was in the spare bedroom that night rather than his own bedroom in the basement.

Mrs. Rathwell called 911 after exiting the house, believing it was possibly a chimney fire.

“There was no smoke in the house when we woke up but by the time we got Jarred out, the smoke detector had started to go off,” she recalled.

She said the fact the house was constructed with the ICF walls with a steel roof created the worst possible scenario for firefighters. 

“We honestly thought we were building the house to last, low maintenance,” she noted. “But it was just the worst case scenario for them.

“They were fantastic, and they had their work cut out for them,” she added.

Mrs. Rathwell said there was in-floor heat in the basement and the fireplace was used on the main level to take the chill off.

She put the two boys and their two dogs in the truck and took them next door to neighbours, Mike and Betty Ann Cayer, while Mr. Rathwell went out to Hoffman Road to direct the firefighters to the location.

She recalls standing there with her husband in disbelief as they watched firefighters battle the blaze.

“We moved a lot  to get to where we wanted to be and this was our dream to be on the water.”

High Praise For Firegfighters

Mrs. Rathwell had nothing but praise for the firefighters.

“It was the worst night it could have happened,” she said. “The middle of hunting season for a volunteer fire department.

“The roads were terrible,” she continued. “They got there relatively quickly and went right to work.”

She and Mr. Rathwell remained at the scene until 3:30 or 4 a.m., noting firefighters never stopped their efforts.

“That was a huge job for them. It was a hard, hard house. The weather was crappy, the roads were terrible, everything worked against them.”

“We have nothing but good things to say,” she added.

Overwhelmed By Support

The family stayed at a friend’s house the first night but are now living at their hunting camp on Corrigan Road in BV Township for the immediate time. 

“The outpouring of support is overwhelming,” she stated. “We’ve had calls and donations from our school family, the boys’ hockey family (they are members of the Upper Ottawa Valley Aces).

“We’ve had people offer us a house to stay in,” she continued.   

  Mrs. Rathwell said they’ve received donations of clothing from the Cottage Cup in Golden Lake, a monetary donation from the Civitan Club in Cobden, the firefighters association in Pembroke and colleagues from the Renfrew County District Health Unit where she is a nurse.

“And the family and friends . . . we’re normally those people and now we’re on the other end. It’s mind blowing how quick the community comes together.

“We’re just so blessed,” she added. “Words can’t even say how thankful we are. It’s fantastic.”    

 Mrs. Rathwell said they are fully insured for the loss and the plan is to rebuild on the same site.

 She is also a real estate agent for Century 21 Eady Realty in Eganville and Mr. Rathwell is a supervisor at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories in Chalk River.