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Foster Home Burned

January 25, 2013 permalink

A Kitchener area foster home has been destroyed by fire. There was no one home at the time.



Foster home building destroyed in one of two major fires in near Baden and Ayr at same time Thursday

Morningstar Acres
Wilmot Township firefighters battled a 1:42 p.m. house fire at the Morningstar Acres children's foster home on Snyders Rod. E. on Thursday.
Robert Wilson/Record staff

WATERLOO REGION — Carmen Ferber watched with tears in her eyes as firefighters battled in vain Thursday afternoon to save a treatment centre that had been a haven for troubled kids.

The Baden-area building, home to four foster children and several foster parents, was gutted in a fire that struck her charity, Morningstar Family Ministries.

It was one of two major blazes that broke out within minutes of each other. The second destroyed a home north of Ayr.

In Wilmot Township, dozens of firefighters worked against bitterly cold temperatures but could not save the two-storey Morningstar building, which was engulfed by the time they arrived. The Christian agency built the brick residence only about four years ago, as part of an expansion.

The children and teens who were living in the home lost everything, said Ferber, who is Morningstar’s executive director.

“It’s just breaking my heart. These are kids who have already experienced so much hardship in their lives,” she said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Morningstar is a foster agency that cares for 18 children and teenagers, many from abusive homes and difficult upbringings.

The children who are sent there are typically wards of the state, referred by Family and Children’s Services. Some suffer from disabilities, while others have parents who are imprisoned or otherwise unable to care for them.

The charity operates three treatment foster homes and two schools for high-needs kids at campuses in St. Agatha and in New Hamburg. The Ferbers, who founded the agency, have 16 children themselves, 13 of them adopted.

Thursday’s fire spared the charity’s head office building on Snyder’s Road East, near Baden, but left the group with an immediate need to find space for the displaced in the adjacent home.

Ferber said Morningstar will need to rent a four or five-bedroom home to temporarily house the foster children. They’ll also have to start replacing clothes, furniture, beds and other personal items that were destroyed.

A passing motorist saw smoke coming from the building at about 1:40 p.m. and ran in to tell the staff at the foster home, who called 911. The staff had been in a meeting in the main office and hadn’t seen any signs of fire.

No one was in the treatment home, called Leeanne’s Haven, at the time of the fire and no one was injured, Ferber said.

“It’s just such a shock,” said Ferber, who opened her first residential home with her husband Otto in 2004. “We’re just glad everyone is safe.”

The treatment centre, tucked into the rolling hills of Wilmot Township, worked to give children “a future and a hope,” the charity says. Trained staff worked inside the home to help the kids — many who have been in and out of schools all their lives.

It wasn’t immediately known what caused the fire, said Wilmot Township Fire Chief John Ritz. With temperatures plunging to -22 C with the wind chill, firefighters struggled to keep their equipment from freezing up, he said.

“Cold weather like this makes firefighting much more difficult. It gives us freeze-ups in our hoses, it makes a hard job even tougher,” he said.

Fire investigators were looking into a report that the home had been having trouble with its furnace lately, but Ritz said it’s too early to speculate what role that may have played.

About 35 firefighters from across Wilmot Township and beyond came to help, including water tanker trucks from Kitchener, Waterloo and Wellesley Township.

The trucks brought tank after tank of water from a municipal hydrant down the road, which was pumped into a gaping hole in the building’s roof by ladder trucks. Smoke from the fire could be seen from several kilometres away.

Police temporary closed Snyder’s Road between Gingerich Road and Notre Dame Drive as firefighters struggled to fight to blaze.

About four minutes before the Morningstar fire was reported, North Dumfries Township firefighters were called to a large house fire at 1649 Northumberland St., south of Cedar Creek Road.

There, crews shuttled water to the scene as flames devoured the single-storey, custom-built home.

Firefighters were initially able to go into the home but were forced to retreat as the fire spread and broke through the roof.

“We had to go totally defensive on our attack,” said North Dumfries Fire Chief Robert Shantz.

The couple who owns the home was not there at the time, and there were no pets inside. The home is a total loss, Shantz said, and damage will likely be around $1 million.

Because of the dollar value, the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office has been notified. Investigators will return to the scene on Friday as they try to pinpoint a cause.

Crews from Cambridge, New Dundee and Paris assisted firefighters from Ayr. As in Baden, the cold temperatures made it especially challenging.

“We had lots of firefighters that looked like icicles,” Shantz said.

Source: Waterloo Record