Family puts life back together after home burns down

It’s probably the last thing on a homeowner’s mind but what happens if your home burns down?

The Ponoka Fire Department responded to the call of the Fingernagels’ house on fire southwest of Ponoka. They battled the flames for more than six hours before it was completely out.

The Ponoka Fire Department responded to the call of the Fingernagels’ house on fire southwest of Ponoka. They battled the flames for more than six hours before it was completely out.

It’s probably the last thing on a homeowner’s mind but what happens if your home burns down? Is there a plan for such an occasion? Is there insurance?

For one family that became a reality and it has tested them in more ways than one.

After losing their mobile home and its contents to a fire Sept. 20, Mike and Janette Fingernagel have been working to bring some normalcy to their lives, not only for themselves but for their children as well. They also hope to give other homeowners the lessons learned from their experience.

On one level they feel lucky their pets were out of the house, the kids were at school, and they were at work. On another they have had a challenge in dealing with the aftermath of the fire, which was started by a lawnmower.

“I was just mowing the leaves up (the day before) and trying to get the yard tidy for winter,” explained Mrs. Fingernagel.

Thinking nothing of it as it is something they have been doing for the past six years, she stored the mower under the deck, picked her children up from school and went about their daily routine. They dropped off the kids the next day and went to work and it appears the leaves and grass smouldered overnight before finally igniting.

Mr. Fingernagel was on his way to Eckville when he received a call from Ponoka RCMP. “It was very surreal.”

Once he realized how serious the fire was, Mr. Fingernagel proceeded to take the trip home, which took about 40 minutes. He credits his GPS system for helping giving him the discipline to remain calm and stay at the speed limit. “It’s an excellent tool.”

“I didn’t think it would hit me as bad as it did,” he explained of when he arrived at the scene.

“When you think of fire, you think of a fire pit, you don’t ever see the big side of it or you don’t ever want to see the big side of it,” said Mrs. Fingernagel.

The effect of a lost home has taken its toll on the entire family. One of their children has been waking up in the middle of the night. Sleep is a challenge for both parents as their minds keep thinking about the things they need to do.

School counsellors have been working with their children to give them someone else to talk to.

“Lucas was trying to rake toys that were melted to his cabinet,” stated Mrs. Fingernagel.

Even the pets have had to adjust; before the house was removed, one of the cats attempted to sleep on their son’s burnt bed and returned black and sooty. One of the dogs tried to rest on the deck but fell through.

They have however found a level of compassion from their neighbours that has surprised the entire family; from toys and outfits for the kids, to freshly baked cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

“We come home and there’s bags of clothes left here,” Mrs. Fingernagel explained. “Everything I’ve got on has been given.”

What is worse for them is those personal items that cannot be replaced, such as photos or a lock of her mother’s hair.

“I can’t ever get that back…just little things,” said Mrs. Fingernagel.

“We’ve come to the realization that physical things can be replaced, that’s fine. For us it is the kids baby pictures, the baby DVDs,” explained Mr. Fingernagel.

Their main goal is to get a new home and get their kids into “some sort of routine and security.”

Their insurance company was called as soon as possible, which helped get the insurance adjuster on site to inspect the aftermath of the fire, which Mr. Fingernagel feels was a benefit to their situation. The adjuster helped get the home removed within a few days after the investigation was concluded.

Upgrades to the home such as renovated bathrooms and a wood-burning stove increased the value of their house but Mrs. Fingernagel said it was something they never thought to tell their insurance company about.

“Apparently we’re underinsured, we’re not even covered for half of what we lost,” she said.

Nine out of 10 times people are underinsured for cases such as this, the adjuster explained to Mrs. Fingernagel.

The challenge has been to remember how many pairs of socks they owned and to try and track down receipts from purchases of items. “We wouldn’t even know where to start.”

“We’ve been running around all week just to find receipts,” explained Mr. Fingernagel. “Everything’s covered, it’s just not enough.”

The only thing that made it out of the fire was a small fireproof lock box. It housed their important marriage papers and passports.

The family continues to work with the bank and insurance company to sort out a new home, but both feel it is important for people to know about small details such as cleaning out the lawnmower, which Mrs. Fingernagel said is even a direction in the machine’s manual.

The Fingernagels will hopefully be in a new home in about three weeks as they are living in a borrowed trailer as theirs is not warm enough.

When the dust settles they will work with their insurance company to have important information stored with video and photos. And the company will store it.