A seven-year-old boy with autism has died after a house fire in Stayner, Ont. Thursday evening.
Emergency crews responded to the blaze at a home on Highway 26 near Sunnidale Corners in Clearview Township, just west of Barrie, Ont., around 8:50 p.m.
Ontario Provincial Police said four occupants of the home made it out safely but Dominic Denesiuk-Smith, who had autism according to family members, was pronounced dead at the scene.
“Our crews did a fast attack and at that time they made attempts to get a young child out from the first floor,” Clearview Township Fire Chief Colin Shewell said. “But unfortunately the child succumbed to their injuries on scene.”
Dave Paul, a family friend, told Global News he was out of town with the boy’s father in nearby Collingwood, Ont. when they were notified of the fire.
“His daughter called and basically said the house was on fire and she didn’t know what to do. We said call the police and call 911,” Paul said.
“By the time we got here, the police, the fire trucks were here. We weren’t allowed to go on the property.”
Samantha Lawrence, the 37-year-old girlfriend of Dave Fleming, the man who owns the farm, was also home at the time. Lawrence tells Global News she had already called 911 and tried to rescue Dominic but couldn’t get to him.
She says she’s “devastated” by the loss, and that she considered Dominic “a son”.
Lawrence says Fleming’s 18-year-old daughter and his two boys were also home with Dominic.
She adds that Dominic and his father Donnie Smith had come to live with Fleming after Smith’s wife died in a farm accident in 2010.
“The fellow that lost his son, he’s a single father,” Paul said. “He was trying to raise an autistic son himself.”
Paul said Dominic was a happy child who enjoyed life.
“Dominic was a nice, easygoing boy. He loved the world to death,” Paul said. “He played. He was in his own little world.”
A GoFundMe online fundraising campaign was set up to raise money for the family with a goal of $10,000. A description on the site said the home was not insured at the time of the fire.
Arlene Dickinson, a South African-born Canadian business mogul and co-star of CBC’s Dragon’s Den, personally donated $5,000 to the family’s fundraiser and told Global News she wanted to encourage others to contribute after learning the family had no insurance.
“We wanted to use my platform to raise awareness … and we wanted people to help and know about it and do what they could,” she said. “It’s very, very sad.”
Dickinson said she was driving by the scene of the fire Thursday night on the way to her cottage nearby when she stopped to try to help.
“We saw the fire and stopped to pull over and see what was happening and by the time we got there it was obviously too late to do anything,” she said.
“Of course it had personally impacted us because we had witnessed the fire and we felt horrible about the family and about that little boy. So I thought I would use my platform to just raise awareness because it’s so tragic and it made us all so sad when we found out about it.”
Fire officials could not immediately confirm if there were any working fire alarms in the household.
The cause of the fire is under investigation by the Office of the Fire Marshal.