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People in Dawson City rally for local pianist left homeless by fire

Dwayne Kelly says he's been overwhelmed by the support and generous donations he's received from friends and neighbours this week. On Saturday, his home outside of town was destroyed by fire.

Dwayne Kelly's home — a houseboat outside of town — was destroyed by fire last weekend

Dwayne Kelly regularly plays ragtime piano at the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City. His home was destroyed in a fire last weekend. Kelly says he also burned some of his fingers, but he can still play. (YouCaring.com)

Dwayne Kelly gets choked up just talking about it.

"This town is just incredible. I've been bawling my eyes out all day," he said. "I know why I moved up here now."

Kelly has been overwhelmed by the support and generous donations he's received from friends and neighbours this week in Dawson City, Yukon. On Saturday, Kelly was left homeless when his houseboat outside of town — his home for 30 years — was destroyed by fire.

He lost everything he owns, except the clothes he was wearing that night. He almost lost those, too.

"I ended up having no parka or nothing, in 43-below [zero] weather, and my sweater was almost burned off of me," he recalled.

Kelly is not sure exactly how the fire started. He says he came home that evening after doing some grocery shopping in town, about 15 kilometres away. He says he stirred the coals in his stove then went outside for some wood.

"There was no flames or nothing, and I wasn't really concerned," he recalled.

He walked across the river for wood, then turned to discover a red sky. The flames, he said, were "probably about 30 feet high."

Going for help

"Only thing I can think of is that a spark had hit the carpet. Because like I said, there was no fire — it was just coals."

He ran back and tried to grab his coat from the inferno, because it had his money. He says that's when his gloves and sweater caught fire. He rolled in the snow to put it out, but his hands had already been burned.

The Dawson City airport was not far away, so he walked there and used the phone to call police. By the time they got to him, he said, he was in bad shape.

Kelly is now staying at the Downtown Hotel, while he figures things out. 'They’re so good to me, they treat me like a king,' he said. (Google)

"I was almost an hour and half out in the cold, and my core of my body was giving out. And I was getting kind of desperate by then," he said.

The officers wrapped him in a blanket and whisked him to the local hospital. Afterwards, Kelly went to the Downtown Hotel, where he makes money playing ragtime piano. The hotel gave him a room to stay in until he sorts himself out.

"They're so good to me. They treat me like a king," he said.

'I'm gonna start up a fundraiser for you'

The next night — New Year's Eve — Peter Wylie went to the Westminster Hotel with his wife to celebrate the new year. That's where they ran into Kelly and heard his story. Wylie says Kelly still seemed to be in shock.

"He smelled of, like, wood smoke and fire and everything. And he basically downed five shots of Fireball," Wylie said.

"So I sat down and I said, 'I'm gonna start up a fundraiser for you, try and get you back up on your feet."

Wylie enlisted a friend to set up an online fundraising page. As of Wednesday afternoon, it had raised $1,991.

Dawsonsites have also been making other donations, Wylie says.

"People have been dropping off money at the Downtown [Hotel] for him, dropping off parkas for him, asking what size of clothes he wears."

'There’s so much good and so much love in this town,' Kelly said. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

Feeling 'kind of broken'

Despite the help, Kelly himself is still trying to come to grips with what happened, and what to do now. He says he loved his houseboat, and it had always been his dream to live on the water. He's not sure whether he can rebuild.

"It's one of those things, you know, I kind of don't want to give up on it, but I don't know if I got enough strength. I'm 62 — I'm kinda wore out," he said.

"It seems like you work all your life, and everything's gone. I feel kind of broken, you know?"

More than anything, though, he's grateful for all of the friends in Dawson who have rallied to help him. 

"There's so much good and so much love in this town. I have been overwhelmed, I just can't even contain it."

With files from Mike Rudyk

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