Nearly four months after it was gutted by fire, 79-year-old James McGrath and his wife are in the early stages of rebuilding their home.
In early April, the couple spent an evening out with friends. They arrived home to find their house was among three that were engulfed in flames.
“You see it on the news all the time – where people’s homes burn – and it’s just a passing thing,” McGrath said. “But when it happens to you, you find out (all) the personal things you have lost and your life changes – it’s pretty traumatic.”
In this case, the wind played a major role as well as the building materials.
“Vinyl siding – to say that it burns faster than the old conventional wood – absolutely it does,” Lethbridge Fire Marshal Heath Wright said.
So far this year, there have been 13 structures fires in Lethbridge. Wright says people typically have about four minutes to get out of a burning house safely. He notes that timeframe has dropped dramatically over the years and that it used to be at least 13 minutes.
“Synthetic furniture isn’t comparable to the oak furniture we used to have,” he said. “The furniture that is used now, not only creates carbon monoxide gases but also creates cyanide which is highly dangerous to citizens.”
“With the new type of home construction and new type of infrastructure and combustibles and the rate of and rise of fire and flashovers, it’s really important to us to understand that science,” Deputy Chief Roy Pollmuller said.
The city’s recent growth has fire officials working to ensure response times are kept low. They say they are working on a fire master plan that is expected to be completed this year. They are also encouraging residents to do their part.
“Just cleaning your home and keeping it as tidy as possible is a first start,” Wright said. “A clean shop is a safe shop – it’s cliché, but it’s true. Also (have) working smoke alarms and a fire safe plan in place.”
McGrath says he hopes people can learn from his ordeal. He says his new house will have flame-resistant siding.
“Who wants to build a house when you’re my age?” he asked. “We really didn’t want to do it.”