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Lethbridge family receives ‘overwhelming’ support after west-side house fire

Click to play video: 'Lethbridge family ‘overwhelmed’ by community support after house fire' Lethbridge family ‘overwhelmed’ by community support after house fire
A Lethbridge family of four says the response from their neighbors, friends and strangers following a fire that destroyed their home on Monday has been overwhelming. Emily Olsen reports – Nov 17, 2020

A family of four is beginning to find their footing after a fire destroyed their west Lethbridge home Monday morning.

“They have lost everything,” said Leslie King about her sister’s family. “They walked out with what they had on their backs. They have nothing.”

King said her sister, Carolyn Schmidt, and three nieces are lucky to be alive thanks to the quick thinking and bravery of 13-year-old Mikaela.

Read more: Early morning blaze ignites west Lethbridge home

“She saved them,” King said. “She got everybody up and she got them out and she called 9-1-1.”

“She saved our family. So she’s our hero. You don’t have stories like this where people [always] come out of it alive.”

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King added that the community’s response — around $10,000 in donations to their GoFundMe page in the last 24 hours — has been incredible.

“Everybody has had hardships, and people have lost their jobs,” King said. “And for people to be stepping up the way they are is just amazing. Thank you is not enough. It really isn’t.”

She said the outpouring of support and donations is a testament to the kind of person her sister is and the work she does in the community.

“They were just starting to get back on their feet,” King said. “[Schmidt] is an essential worker, she’s in the healthcare field. [The COVID-19 pandemic] had a huge impact on mental health and everything, then to add this on top is just that much more difficult.”

Read more: Your Christmas tree may put you at risk: Lethbridge fire officials

In a statement released on Tuesday afternoon, the family thanked a number of local organizations and businesses in Lethbridge, including the Fire Department for their quick response time. They also expressed their gratitude towards their neighbour Liam Connel, who started a GoFundMe page, and their landlord who has been supportive and understanding throughout the ordeal.

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“The support and generosity we have received is truly heartwarming and it is in these times that faith in humanity is truly restored thanks to the kindness of this community,” the statement read.

Read more: 2 people accused of fire code violations after fatal Lethbridge fire

Among many local businesses offering support, the west side Pet Valu store pitched in with a care package for the family’s pets.

“There were some Christmas toys for the dogs, cat food, dog food, a crate bed, a crate for the dogs,” PetValu assistant manager Debbie Watkin said. “The owners are part of the community already. It’s a locally owned store. So they felt it was important after such a stressful year to really just  help out somebody in need.”

The gift was in perfect timing for a heartwarming reunion with the family’s second dog early Tuesday morning. “Giselle” the dog and two other cats were missing following the fire. The cats have still not been located.

Fire investigators have now confirmed the fire was accidental and remind residents to always extinguish smoking materials properly, in a non-combustible container filled with sand or water.

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