‘They barely got out the front door’ - No working smoke alarm found in St. Catharines house fire
‘They barely got out the front door’ - No working smoke alarm found in St. Catharines house fire
Early morning fire in north St. Catharines. The St. Catharines fire department said there were no working smoke alarms inside the home where they responded to a fire early Wednesday morning and that the occupants, two adults and two children, are lucky to escape alive. Photo by David Ritchie
Fire officials say a St. Catharines family is lucky to be alive, after a fire ripped through their home early Wednesday morning.

St. Catharines Fire Chief Mark Mehlenbacher said the home, located at 23 Densgrove Dr. in the city’s north end, had no working smoke alarms. The four occupants, a couple and their two children, barely made it out of the fire, he said.

“They were lucky to escape with their lives,” said Mehlenbacher. “They barely got out the front door.”

Emergency officials were called to the home shortly after midnight on Wednesday morning. Upon arrival, the couple and their children, ages nine and 12, had escaped their home, which was fully engulfed in flames.

“The fire started in the basement, and by the time they realized there was a fire, it was well involved with lots of toxic smoke,” said Mehlenbacher. “They’re lucky they got out.”

All four occupants were taken to St. Catharines General Hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation and were released by Wednesday afternoon.

The community is already rallying to support the family, identified as Stephen and Sandra Eccles and their daughters Amy and Julia.

Dalewood School, where Amy and Julia attended, is accepting donations of clothes, shoes, books, and other items, including gift cards for clothing and grocery stores. Items can be dropped off at Dalewood, 61 Duncan Dr. in St. Catharines from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.. A full list of suggested items is available on the school’s website at http://dalewood.dsbn.org/index.html.

Additionally, a Trust Account has been set up for the Eccles Family at the FirstOntario Credit Union.  

Donations of funds can be made at any FirstOntario branch to chequing account #622379.

The fire caused at least $100,000 in damage, he said. The overall structure of the home, he said, is in fairly good condition, although the damage from the smoke and fire to the interior was “fairly extensive.”

The Ontario Fire Marshal’s office, he said, is currently on scene and investigating with staff from the city’s fire prevention office. Until their investigation is complete, he said, he is not able to comment on the possible cause of the fire, although he said the origin appears to have been the basement.

The result of the fire investigation may also lead to charges. Mehlenbacher said that because there were no working smoke alarms at the time of the fire, they will decide on whether or not charges may be laid once the fire investigation is complete. By law, every home in Ontario must have a working smoke alarm on every storey and outside all sleeping areas.

A smoke alarm on the upstairs level of the home, said Mehlenbacher, was disabled. Early in the investigation, he said, fire officials had not found any type of evidence that there was a smoke alarm on the lower level of the home.

“It’s completely incomprehensible,” said Mehlenbacher. “People need to think of their loved ones. It’s a $10 smoke alarm that will make a difference. There should be no question.”

Mehlenbacher said the unfortunate incident is the time for all residents to take stock and check their own smoke alarms, as well as prepare for a “fire-safe holiday season.” While fire safety is an around the clock priority, he said “there are a lot of distractions in the holiday season and we have to be extra vigilant.”

“I’ve been fire chief for 14 years now, and every year we have the same unfortunate situation,” he said. “I urge all residents to take time to inspect their smoke alarms and ensure they’re working properly.”

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