Community mourns, girl heals year after Summer Beaver house fire

By Jeff Labine
Published: Jan. 17, 2012

A father who lost two sons in a house fire last year in his Summer Beaver First Nations says he continues to move forward so he can care for his two living daughters.

The family home was destroyed when the wood stove caught on fire. No one was inside the house except for six-month-old Amber Neshinapaise and her two older brothers Xavier and Emerald.

Both boys were younger than five-years old.

Firefighters attempted to put the fire out, but were ultimately unsuccessful.

Nearly a year later, the community mourned the loss of the two children Tuesday with a ceremony at the remains of the home. Nothing was left after the fire and the family has since taken up lodgings with fellow family members.

Amber’s father, Gerald Neshinapaise says at the time of the fire he was across town working at the community store. When he heard that his house was being consumed by a blaze, he raced home.

The fire began just after lunchtime.

“I didn’t believe it at first,” Neshinapaise says, recalling the tragic day.

“I rushed out the backdoor and started running as fast as I could. I hopped on my buddy’s Skidoo and started driving real fast. Then I saw my house. It was smoking. I saw the mother (of my children) crying her eyes out. I was hoping my kids weren’t there.

“When I heard her say they were still in there, I felt shocked.”

Amber’s face and arms were burned, but her scars are now healing well. She was being taken care of by his sister at the time of the fire.

Neshinapaise remembers feeling helpless because he wasn’t able save his sons.

But he has been able to survive the last year because of his daughters.

“I have two special, beautiful daughters that I have to look after,” he says.

“I have to be there for them. At times, I wanted to give up but I had to do this for them.”

While firefighters did attempt to snuff out the blaze, they were forced to try and battle the flames without their fire truck. The fire truck had been out of service for a couple of years, and was still awaiting repairs.

Raymond Sugarhead retired as fire chief four years ago. He says the truck was in good condition while he was in his position, but understands that it has since fallen into disrepair for the past two years.

He says the volunteer firefighters didn’t have any equipment or a proper facility to maintain and store the truck.

The community didn’t have the funds to fix the truck, which was a regular target for vandals when it was parked outside.

“It’s unsafe to not have a fire truck,” Sugarhead says.

“We have to have something to put the fire out. Last time there was a fire there were kids. The fire chief is responsible for everything to make sure it is operational.”

He adds that poor maintenance of the truck, and an unattended wood stove were the main reasons for the fatal fire.

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