Man attempts to douse fire he started

A Dartmouth, N.S., man who accidentally set his house on fire Sunday when he used a propane blowtorch to thaw a frozen pipe was sure he had successfully doused the fire on his own, but was wrong.

Used propane torch to thaw pipes

A Dartmouth, N.S., man who accidentally set his house on fire Sunday when he used a propane blowtorch to thaw a frozen pipe said he was sure he had successfully doused the fire on his own.

When the blaze flared up again, Laurie Avery said that there was nothing he could do to save his Symonds Street home, which caught fire about 5 p.m. Sunday as he used a blowtorch.

Avery said Monday that he hasn't had the power hooked up to his house for more than a year. Although he has a generator, he said he only uses it occasionally to turn on a small portable heater.

There was little or no heat on in the house when the pipes froze during a cold snap, he said.

"A pipe broke in the basement, I took a little blowtorch to thaw it out. It popped and I got the fitting off, and a piece of wood caught on fire," he said.

"I doused it down with water, thought it was out, and I went out ... to get a couple of elbows to put on the pipes. I came back in and she was full of smoke."

Avery thought he could put the fire out on his own.

"I found where the source was, and I thought I had it all out because I tore a wall out. Then she [the fire] just came right across the back wall, and I couldn't stop it. So I had to get a hold of the fire department," he said.

Avery is now living in temporary shelter provided by the Red Cross.

Dan Bedell, a Red Cross spokesman, said Avery was only able to save a few articles of clothing and agencies are now working with him to try to get him some financial help.

"The circumstances are, obviously, pretty unfortunate. He's not had power at this residence for more than a year," he said.

Bedell said that fires started by people trying to thaw frozen pipes, or to burn something to generate heat, are quite common.

"In Atlantic Canada, we respond to a house fire on average about once every day and a quarter — so, several hundred a year — and the bulk of them happen in the wintertime," he said.

"Largely, they are related in one way or another, to people trying to stay warm."