GRAPHIC WARNING: The contents in this story are graphic and may disturb some readers.
A 36-year-old man and his mother remain in hospital a week after fire tore through the Humphrey family home just east of Sherwood Park in Beaver Brook Estates.
Jesse Humphrey spoke to Global News from his room in the University of Alberta Hospital, after suffering a number of burns: to his face, lower back, abdomen, leg and hands.
He had his first skin graft surgery on Monday and will require another one soon.
His mom, in her 70s, was also taken to hospital following the fire with smoke inhalation.
It broke out last Tuesday, while Humphrey was working in the attached garage with his dog.
Humphrey said he’d tested positive for COVID-19 and lost all sense of smell and taste. He said that’s why he didn’t realize gas was leaking onto the floor of the garage until it was too late.
“As soon as I looked back up, a ball of flame was coming towards me from the other garage bay,” Humphrey recalled.
He called out for his dog and tried to escape.
“I went to go run out the side door and I tripped and fell flat on my face, stomach and hands, obviously in a puddle of gas. I stood back up and that’s when I ignited in flames.”
Then he ran to the door but struggled to open it.
“The skin on my hands was already melting off… It was really painful and I started screaming for help.”
Humphrey eventually made it out and immediately jumped into a snowbank.
“I remembered ‘stop drop and roll’ from kindergarten so I did that.”
He estimated he spent 30 seconds rolling, trying to put of the flames on his body. Then he went to the house.
“I saw the soffits has already blown out of the house from the explosion. I opened the front door and I saw my younger foster sister in the hallway. I told her to call 9-1-1 and I yelled for my mom to get up. ‘We’ve got to go. The house is on fire.'”
Then Humphrey once again tried to rescue his dog from the garage, this time from the door inside the house. But when he opened it, he said flames shot out, burning his face.
“Flames were rolling into the house from the garage door and that’s when I had to make the call to save my dog or shut the door because my mom wasn’t out yet,” he said, crying at the memory.
He ended up closing the door, and taking the phone from his 16 year-old foster sister, who had frozen on the line with first responders.
Humphrey said he gave them directions, and then started stomping on the floor and screaming for his niece, who was in her room in the basement.
Micah Wiens, 25, heard the commotion upstairs.
When she and her friend rushed upstairs and opened the door, Wiens was shocked at what she saw.
“Black smoke was just everywhere. It was super hard to breathe,” she said.
She started coughing and then noticed her uncle.
“His face was completely black, his forearms were locked at 90 degrees and you could tell something was wrong with him. He was in sheer panic. His hands were stuck open. At the time I didn’t realize that he was burned so badly.”
Wiens said it was really hot in the hallway, and pitch dark, but she still saw the door to the garage glowing orange.
But in the chaos, she thought of one thing clearly.
“My grandma, who is not very mobile at all, she was in her bedroom. So I grabbed my friend and was like: ‘We need to get grandma out of the house. She needs our help.'”
So the pair rushed to help her, telling Humphrey and their foster sister to get outside.
“It felt like forever, but it probably only took four minutes to get everybody out.”
With everyone safe, Wiens made one final dash into the house, grabbing her puppy from the basement.
Then they dragged her grandma in her wheelchair through the snow down the driveway, away from the fire, just as fire crews arrived on scene.
Meanwhile, Humphrey was trying again to save his dog.
“But I couldn’t get him to come to the door and the flames were too big.”
Firefighters ended up taking Humphreys aside and cutting his hoodie off, assessing his burns.
Barry Bouwsema, Platoon Chief with Strathcona County Emergency Services said his crew was most worried about Humphrey’s hands, which had second-degree burns.
AHS arrived on scene and took him to hospital, along with his mom, who Bouwsema said was experiencing shortness of breath.
In terms of fighting the flames, he said by the time crews arrived, the garage was fully engulfed and had spread through the attic to the house.
In the end, the house was destroyed.
“The estimated loss of the fire was $500,000 and cause of the fire is a fuel line failure of a vehicle being worked on in the garage,” Bouwsema said.
He added two pets died in the blaze, Humphrey’s dog Coal, and his foster sister’s pet bunny.
While Humphrey expects to remain in hospital for another month, his parents, foster sister and niece are looking for an accessible, dog-friendly home in Strathcona County to rent while they sort things out with insurance.
Wiens said people have donated clothing to her, as she escaped with just the hoodie and leggings she was wearing.
“Everything I own: pictures, paperwork, all my snowboard gear, it was all in the basement,” she said.
The basement ended up being flooded with water and nothing was salvageable.
But she’s not concerned about the material items, saying those can be replaced. She’s just worried about her uncle and his recovery.
“I don’t think he’s going to be able to go back to work for quite a while,” Wiens said.
The family is also asking for prayers.