‘It was extremely nightmarish’

A first person account of losing all worldly possessions in a Thursday morning house fire

Flames destroyed a family's home east of Nelson on Thursday morning.

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. Fire breaks out in your house while the family sleeps.

On Thursday morning the nightmare became reality for Jeanine and Harold Koeltgen and their 11-year-old daughter when a blaze broke out at their home just west of Balfour.

“Ava woke us up saying she saw a glow and some sparks out the window… she asked ‘what’s that?’ I said ‘fire! Fire? Fire!” Jeanine told the Star.

Life changed for Koeltgens in a moment just after 6 a.m.

“Ava…  I thought about Ava and getting her out,” Jeanine said when asked what crossed her mind in that moment. “It was intense and very frightening. I was very aware of how life threatening it was and how quickly we needed to move.”

Jeanine said Harold immediately grabbed a fire extinguisher and she called 911. From what they could tell the fire started outside and most of the flames were not inside the house early on.

“You think at first, what can you do to save the situation?” she said. “We very quickly deduced that we needed to get out of the house right away.

“I got Ava to get her snowsuit and snow boots on. I ran back upstairs to look for the kitty and to get clothes… I knew right away I shouldn’t be up there. I grabbed something to wear and ran back down the stairs. We got the dogs and the rabbit, got out the door and that was it.”

Jeanine said all this took place in a timeframe of no more than three minutes.

“It was extremely nightmarish,” she said. “We could hear glass breaking and at that point the smoke just filled in the house. At that point it became very extreme and very dangerous.

“When I was running down the stairs the glass was shattering.”

Still trying to gather their bearings, once outside the Koeltgens quickly realized they didn’t grab a single memory from their jeopardized house.

“In my mind I was thinking, it’s going to be okay and the fire trucks are going to come,” said Jeanine. “But it didn’t happen… everything went. All our pictures… everything.”

It didn’t take long to realize that everything was going to be lost.

“Harold made Ava and I go to the end of the road because he didn’t want us to watch,” said Jeanine.

Though the Balfour Volunteer Fire Department did attend, the house was quickly leveled.

“I am mostly sad about things passed down from my family and things made for Ava that are very special to her,” Jeanine said about all they lost.

The two family dogs and the rabbit also made it out of the house safely. At this point the family kitten has not been located.

Jeanine said the loss of the family pet has been difficult, but her daughter is being brave during the horrible ordeal.

“I’m very proud of her, she is handling it with extreme grace,” she said. “We have had a lot of support from neighbours and friends in the community. They have brought her some crayons and a book to read and some of the basics.”

The Koeltgens were insured and met with adjustors on Thursday afternoon. The investigation is continuing and at this point the family is not sure what type coverage they will receive.

“I have such a heartfelt appreciation for this community,” said Jeanine. “Every time we turn around we get support and lots of hugs. People are so supportive in offering their help in any way we need.”

There are initiatives underway to help the family, but firm details have not been nailed down. If you would like to help the family, friends suggest joining the Facebook group at http://on.fb.me/zbuPRq for the latest on ways to help.

Out of turmoil — if it’s possible — a stronger family bond has emerged. If it wasn’t for the quick response of an 11-year-old girl the extent of the tragedy could have been unimaginable.

“We’re incredibly grateful that Ava woke us up,” Jeanine said, voice shaking. “She saved the day. The fire alarms didn’t go off until we reached the door because the smoke was on the outside. She’s our hero for sure.”


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