Family works through stress of losing their home to fire

A home fire is not something anybody expects and for one family the loss of a home and two pets has not been easy.

A home fire is not something anybody expects and for one family the loss of a home and two pets has not been easy.

The fire started in the evening of Nov. 28 southeast of Morningside and Bonnie Longjohn had just awakened from a nap.

“I lay down on the couch to watch TV and fell asleep and then for whatever reason, woke up,” said Mrs. Longjohn.

All that is left of the building is the foundation as the fire continued through most of the night and firefighters were on site until 9 a.m. Lacombe Fire Chief Ed VanDelden said it was a cold night and the department took turns fighting the blaze to stay warm. There were some challenges for them as snow melted from the heat and then froze further away from the home but they continued fighting the fire.

“It was so cold, they took shifts and they were just amazing,” said Mrs. Longjohn of firefighters’ efforts.

Mrs. Longjohn has been the caretaker of the home for many years as her father and stepmother, Charlie and Jane Bowie, live in a trailer at the Ponoka Moose Lodge. She said there are many heirlooms and memories from the home.

“Dad built the house himself, he started it in ’63,” said Mrs. Longjohn.

The home itself was moved to its present location in 1959.

“The next year we started building bigger, much bigger,” said Mr. Bowie.

It took three fire departments to try and contain the blaze; the Lacombe Fire Department received the call the home was on fire and they requested the assistance of the Clive Fire Department and a tanker truck from the Ponoka Fire Department.

The home was 1,800 square feet plus the basement and over the years housed many hockey players and other people who needed a place to stay.

In 1979 Mr. Bowie started to billet hockey players for a Hobbema junior A hockey team and would drive them daily to games and practices while raising three of his own children and two stepchildren.

“Lots of people did it in the community,” said Mrs. Longjohn. “But even before that and I can remember this growing up. There’s different times that people would come and live with us.”

One of the significant memories for Mrs. Longjohn is when their babysitter moved in with them for four years and another year when a family lost their home to a fire. “He had a family come and stay that had a fire, I remember that one…they just stayed with dad until they could get a house to move back onto where their site was. They even had a baby while they were out there.”

A pool table was one of many different items including Mr. Bowie’s and his great-uncle’s uniform. Also a table that has been within the family for several generations and was 150 years old, was lost. All of their family photos were lost to the blaze as well. Mr. Bowie said there is no way to put a value on their belongings. “You can’t.”

Mrs. Bowie received a call from Mrs. Longjohn that the house was on fire. Mrs. Bowie also called 911 to give the location of the home. “I was so glad I was there to answer the phone.”

The garage located close to the home was the first place Mrs. Longjohn noticed the flames. “I could see the yellow glow and realized it was fully on fire.”

She took the four dogs out of the home and realized the house itself was also ablaze. Things happened quickly for her at that point, Mrs. Longjohn moved a van close to the home but did not see it had started to melt on one side from the heat. She then moved a pickup truck and placed the dogs in there to keep them safe. Her goal was to keep the animals safe and out of the way of firefighters. She then remembers receiving a call from a 911 dispatcher asking if there was anyone in the house. The dispatcher made her promise not to go back in as there were still two cats in there.

“So I did, and you can’t make a promise and break it, so didn’t go back in the house,” she stated.

Despite losing her two cats to the fire, Mrs. Longjohn feels a person’s life is too important. “If there’s any message that I would want to say. It’s not worth going back in for. Not anything’s worth it.”

She mentioned several times her concern over the loss of their personal treasures but Mrs. Longjohn said her father has the right perspective. “Quietly, in the manner that he has, ‘Well you’re the treasure.’ It puts it right where it really is.”

The cause of the fire is still under investigation but Mr. Bowie is grateful to their insurance company for their assistance. “Co-operators has been real good to us.”

The family has received help from friends and family over the past weeks and a benefit social gathering has been organized by friends, Fred Radtke and Harry Lagroix. It will be held Dec. 16 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Ponoka Moose Lodge. Mrs. Longjohn has been staying with them for the time being but has a friend who has given her a place to stay until such time as a new home can be built.

Mrs. Bowie feels there has been much generosity from people. “The very first day, it was like a steady stream of stuff coming in. Personal stuff like clothing and cosmetics and money to buy what she needed. It was just constant that first day.”

Mrs. Longjohn’s daughter, Courtney, feels despite losing everything to the fire, it has brought the family closer together.

For more information on the benefit, contact Radtke at 403-783-8587 or Lagroix at 403-783-2635.

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