Manitoba

Overheated laptop ignited blaze that burned rural Manitoba home to ground

An overheated laptop ignited papers on a desk and erupted into a fire that left nothing but ashes where a family's home once stood in a small Manitoba community.

Family that lost home says the experience has been devastating but also inspiring

A firefighter stands amid ash and rubble where the house once stood. (Submitted by Joyska Tkachyk)

An overheated laptop ignited papers on a desk and erupted into a fire that left nothing but ashes where a family's home once stood in a small southeastern Manitoba community.

The cause of the fire, which happened Nov. 21 in Sundown — just over 100 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg — was released this week by the provincial fire commissioner's office. The official wording cited the case as "accidental, due to an overheated laptop igniting nearby combustibles."

Joyska Tkachyk, whose home it was, told CBC News the computer was charging on a desk near paperwork — something done regularly by many people.

"We run our business out of home, so our office is our desk," she said.

Fortunately, no one was hurt in the fire, which broke out while the family — Tkachyk, her husband Randy and their two young daughters, aged 8 and 11 — was an hour's drive away at church. Sadly, the family's pet dog was inside and did not make it out.

The flames were spotted by Randy's mother but by then, it was too late to save the house.

"She called and said, 'Your house is on fire. Your house is gone,'" Randy told CBC News. "It took my heart right to my throat."

"It has burned to ashes. By the time we returned (4½ hours after leaving our home), there was nothing left," Tkachyk wrote on a Facebook post.

Joyska Tkachyk posted these photos on Facebook of the family home, with an addition being built last November, and after the fire this year on Nov. 21. (Joyska Tkachyk/Facebook)

Tkachyk said the experience has obviously been devastating but also inspiring.

"We have been rallied around and blessed everywhere we turn," she said.

The family has been put up in a three-bedroom, fully furnished house close to their farm and on the girls' school bus route. 

"Our neighbours provided us with a home," said Randy, his words hurdling and tripping over sobs. "It was vacant but everything is here. They gave it to us as long as we need.

"Everyone has been lifting us up. We're down but they're lifting us. Knowing we are so loved, it's very good."

Numerous bags of clothing and gifts have also been donated, along with other offers of support and help. Stores in town have greeted the family with gift cards, discounts or even free things for the girls, Tkachyk said.

"We are humbled by the immediate provisions stocking our temporary home (and refrigerator/cupboards). We are encouraged by the prayers and encouragements we have received and continue to receive," she wrote in her Facebook post.

"We are safe. We are together. We are warm. God is so good."

'Beauty from the ashes'

Two days after the fire, Tkachyk and her husband took their daughters to show them what was left.

"We had told them everything was gone, but I don't think they truly understood what that meant. It's three feet of ash and debris," Tkachyk posted on Facebook.

An angel sculpture was found in the ashes of the house fire two days later. (Joyska Tkachyk/Facebook)

As everyone was looking at the rubble, Randy pulled out an angel sculpture.

"It is the first thing (and likely only thing) that survived. It's a symbol for us that God will bring beauty from the ashes," Tkachyk posted on Facebook. "He already has.

"God is using this to draw us closer as a family as we pray, cry, laugh, and play."

While they are extremely grateful for all the donations and support they have received, the family is hoping those who know them can help restore something else they lost — photographs.

"If you have been to the farm and have any pics, please send them, if you have any pics from our wedding, before the wedding ... anything ... pictures that you may have of Randy long before he met me," Tkachyk wrote.

"We want to make an album. Thanks for everything."

The house was completely destroyed in the fire. (Submitted by Joyska Tkachyk)

Something else they lost was 20 years' worth of genetics records from their cattle-breeding business.

"It's all gone. All of it," Randy said, breaking into tears once more.

Battery warning from Health Canada

The use of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, like those in laptops, is common and they are generally considered safe, but as with any energy storage device, they carry risks, Health Canada says.

A notice on the agency's website says the batteries can overheat or even explode if not charged properly.

People are advised to never charge a device on soft surfaces like a couch or a bed because they can trap heat around the battery.

Health Canada also urges people to be sure they use the proper charger plug for their device and not to exceed the recommended charging time.

"We have devices sold every day and you could bring it into a home and it could actually destroy your home," Randy said.

"You don't think about these things. They make everything so handy but in a matter of minutes everything could be gone."

Despite that, Randy calls the fire a "bump in the road that we're going to get over."

"We're going to get back to normal," he said, noting he intends to build a new home in the same place.

About the Author

Darren Bernhardt

Reporter/Editor

Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, first at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories and features. Story idea? Email: darren.bernhardt@cbc.ca

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson

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