Community rallies around Mennonite family seriously injured in fire pit incident in Bayham, Ont.

A community is rallying to support five members of a family seriously injured at an outdoor fire pit in the Ontario municipality of Bayham. A family friend says two of the children will be undergoing surgery in Toronto.

Fundraiser will help cover the costs of medical supplies, special care for 3 young children

Jake and Tina Hiebert, with their five young children as found on the GoFundMe campaign created by family friend Eva Enns. Three of the children and their parents have been severely burned after a jerrycan filled with diesel exploded in the family fire pit Monday night. ( )

A community is rallying to support five family members who were seriously injured at an outdoor fire pit in the Ontario municipality of Bayham. 

Jake and Tina Hiebert and three of their five young children suffered severe burns on Monday night after friends say a jerrycan filled with diesel exploded during a family bonfire. 

The incident happened on Vienna Line. Thirteen members of the Bayham fire department responded, along with the Ontario Provincial Police and EMS. The family was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries. 

Eva Enns is a close family friend who started a GoFundMe campaign for the Hieberts. Within 24 hours, it's raised $29,000 to cover medical, travel and living expenses. Several donations have come from private businesses in the area. 

2 other children safe

According to Enns, 33-year-old Jake and 28-year-old Tina have serious burns, but are stable and sedated. 

A seven-year-old girl has a breathing tube and is also sedated, Enns said. 

A four-year-old boy and one-year-old girl were taken to a hospital in Toronto, where they will undergo surgery, she said.

"The children will need medical supplies, medicine and special care," Enns told CBC London via text message. "There will be permanent psychological damage if it is not treated." 

Enns said two children who were not injured are staying with their grandparents. 

She said the couple is well known in the Aylmer Old Colony Mennonite Church. They've served in various groups and helped to plan events. 

"The family is so grateful," Enns said of the donations. "They know that this will help so much and it will give them a bumper for the months that they won't be able to work. They asked that I thank everyone for them. They can't express how they feel right now with all the support they are getting."

Incident still under investigation 

A statement released Tuesday from the Municipality of Bayham Fire Department said the Elgin County OPP and Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal have been called in to investigate the cause of the fire. 

We just don't want to see anyone [getting] injured as a result of being too near the fire or the fire getting out of control.- Mark MacDonald, president, Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs

Fire Chief Harry Baranik said there was no damage to the property and no injuries to emergency crews. He was unable to provide further comment. 

"Our hearts go out to the Hiebert family," said Mark MacDonald, president of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs. "It's just devastating, that type of fire and involving children especially." 

MacDonald said it's important to keep combustibles, such as gasoline, metres away from fire pits, as radiant heat can travel a surprisingly far distance. 

He recommended that fires be contained in bowls on the ground, surrounded by rocks or stacks of stones, and covered by a mesh screen, also known as a fire arrester. 

He also warned that clothing can get hot and produce a contact burn. 

"It's really about just taking the time to know the surroundings, prepare the area for having that campfire, and make sure that people stay at least one metre away when they're sitting at a fire. Even though it may not feel that warm, a log could roll, a spark could fly out," he said. "And we just don't want to see anyone [getting] injured as a result of being too near the fire or the fire getting out of control." 

Emphasizing fire safety

The Ontario government requires a permit for open air burning in restricted fire zones during the fire season.

According to its website, no permit is necessary to burn piled wood, brush, leaves or wood byproducts if the following rules are followed: 

  • Ignite the fire no sooner than two hours before sunset and extinguish it no later than two hours after sunrise. 
  • Burn only a single pile at a time. 
  • Ensure the pile is less than two metres in diameter and less than two metres high.
  • Keep the fire at least two metres from any flammable materials. 
  • Have tools or water on hand to contain the fire at its site. 
  • Ensure a responsible person tends to the fire until it is extinguished.

Each municipality may impose its own fire ban and regulations.