Yellowknife man who died in fire told his wife to save the baby first

Andrew Debogorski's wife Myriam and their two young children were safe following the house fire on Friday.

Andrew Debogorski's wife Myriam and their two young children are safe following the house fire on Friday

Andrew Debogorski, 32, was a young father and husband, known for his quick wit, good humour and large extended family. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

The father of a man who died in a house fire in Yellowknife last weekend says his son focused on getting his kids to safety first.

Andrew Debogorski, 32, was a young father and husband, who was known for his quick wit, good humour and large extended family.

"I'm sad. We're sad," said his father Alex Debogorski.

Andrew was well known in Yellowknife. He was diagnosed with advanced ALS in 2017 — a neurological disease that left him unable to walk, talk or care for himself — prompting many in the community to raise money for his medical care.

Alex Debogorski, father of Andrew Debogorski, says he's touched by the support his family has received following his son's death. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC )

On Friday night at just after 8 p.m., a fire broke out at his home on 51A Avenue near J.H. Sissons School.

According to police, Andrew was found in the home and taken to Stanton Territorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead. His wife Myriam and their two young children were safe. 

Andrew had 10 siblings, aged 19 to 46, according to his father.

"My kids are suffering, lots of people are blaming themselves," said Alex Debogorski.

"A lot of the kids feel like he really should've had two people with him, rather than just one."

He said Andrew's wife is also blaming herself. He said his son couldn't speak because of the ALS, but by using his head as a cursor, he had a machine that could speak for him.

"He told her 'get the baby out,'" Alex Debogorski said.

"There was so much smoke she had trouble finding the baby, and then she was in a panic. And of course she was having trouble breathing in the smoke."

Yellowknifers have come forward with donations and support for a local family following a fire Friday night. (Walter Strong/CBC)

By the time she found the baby, Debogorski said Myriam ran out of the house in her socks.

"We call Miroslav the miracle baby."

After calling the fire department from a neighbours' house, he said Myriam screamed for the first responders to drag Andrew out.

Alex Debogorski said his son's lung capacity was already reduced due to the ALS. He said doctors at the hospital worked on Andrew for 15 to 30 minutes before pronouncing him dead.

"This is God's will and you know, the only thing is that we live the human condition, and I'm sad," he said.

Through tears, he said people from across the Northwest Territories, Yukon and the world have shared their condolences. He's well-known internationally from his time on the History Channel show Ice Road Truckers.

"I'm very touched," he said. "We're in this together and a lot of people understand better than I do, they've suffered this numerous times."

$26K raised

Yellowknifers have responded to the tragedy with donations of clothing, diapers and toys. A GoFundMe page had also raised more than $26,000 for the family as of Thursday morning.

Nancy MacNeill, long-time friend of the Debogorski family, made a post on Saturday afternoon about how people can help the family. She said she received so many items within two days that she's no longer accepting physical donations.

Nancy MacNeill, long-time friend of the Debogorski family, says the support Yellowknife has shown is overwhelming but unsurprising. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

"I'm sure that at some point in the future there will be a need for more stuff but we're going to let the family sort through what they have and decide what their next steps are," she said.

MacNeill described the community's "massive response" as overwhelming but unsurprising.

"I'm so proud to be a part of this community," she said. "I feel like Yellowknife is a safety net of love just waiting for people when they need it and … it makes hard times a lot better."  

MacNeill said Myriam has also been overwhelmed by the community's response.

"That woman is so strong and so kind and caring and resilient," she said. "I can't imagine what she's going through but she is being just an incredible mom."

A spokesperson from the NWT Office of the Fire Marshal said the cause and origin of the fire have yet to be determined. Work is underway to remove water from the home so investigators can assess the structure.

A funeral service for Andrew Debogorski is scheduled for Jan. 11 at St. Patrick's Parish in Yellowknife with the doors opening at 10 a.m. and the service beginning at 11:00 a.m. It will be followed by a lunch at the Weledeh Catholic School gym beginning at 1:30 p.m. 

With files from Kirsten Murphy

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