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Quick-thinking 8-year-old lauded by Yellowknife neighbours for calling 911 to report car fire

Grace-Ellen Beaulieu, 8, called 911 when she spotted a vehicle fire outside her bedroom window in Yellowknife. Her call is being credited for preventing the fire from spreading to the nearby apartment complex.

Grace-Ellen Beaulieu says she 'just snatched my mom's phone and called 911' when she saw vehicle on fire

Grace-Ellen Beaulieu stands in front of the wreckage from a vehicle fire outside her apartment building in Yellowknife the night before. Grace-Ellen was the one who called 911 after she spotted the fire. (Rose Danen/CBC)

Grace-Ellen Beaulieu and her mother, Farren Beaulieu, were tossing and turning early Sunday morning, struggling to sleep in their crowded single bedroom in Yellowknife.

In their sleeplessness, they spotted a glint of fire in the adjacent apartment window. Upon investigation they realized a vehicle in the parking lot outside the building was engulfed in flames.

It was quick-thinking eight-year-old Grace-Ellen who jumped into action.

"I just felt scared so I just snatched my mom's phone and called 911," said Grace-Ellen. "My mom taught me how and if there was anything wrong or if there was an emergency I would call that number."

The City of Yellowknife fire division arrived shortly after her call, extinguishing the fire in approximately an hour. The car on fire was completely destroyed, and two nearby vehicles were also severely damaged from the heat, but nobody was hurt.

Grace-Ellen's call is being credited for preventing the fire from spreading from the vehicle to the apartment complex and putting lives at risk.

"We didn't know it was her until she came outside and one of the firefighters that was there said something to the effect of, 'There's the young lady of the hour — she's the one that called us,'" said Donna-Lynn Baskin, owner of one of the cars damaged in the fire.

The vehicle on fire was completely destroyed, and two nearby vehicles received severe heat damage. Pictured here is what's left of the vehicles. (Rose Danen/CBC)

Baskin said that Grace-Ellen's quick thinking meant the emergency responders were able to put out the fire before it could ignite the gas tanks of the vehicles and potentially cause an explosion.

All the neighbours outside the evacuated building were patting her on the back and thanking her, said Baskin.

The captain of the fire department even applauded Grace-Ellen, giving her a high five, according to her mother.

"She saved the whole building by responding really quickly with that call," said Farren Beaulieu. "It just teared everybody up. We were all just like, 'Wow, Grace. I believe you are a hero today.'"

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Many sleepless nights

The struggle to sleep that night was nothing new for Grace-Ellen and her mother. Farren Beaulieu says they have been struggling with homelessness for three years now. 

They are currently staying with family, the two of them crowded into a single bedroom surrounded by boxes of their belongings. 

"The direct effect of our housing situation has actually come to this point of her being able to report this fire because of the fact that we just don't get sleep."

Grace-Ellen and her mother, Farren Beaulieu, stand outside the Yellowknife Book Cellar holding the items gifted to Grace-Ellen by the shop, in recognition of her actions. (Rose Danen/CBC)

Farren said she's been trying to advocate for help to get them housing, but with no luck so far. But she hopes Grace-Ellen's actions help raise awareness of their struggles.

"Doing something for the community in this way, I think she's really proven that if we stay positive we can help each other and we can be safe."

"This could be our opportunity to get our voice out there because every child does matter," said Beaulieu. "She deserves her own room, her own home, so we can go there and make dinners together."

Baskin repays Grace-Ellen for her good deed

Baskin praised Grace-Ellen on social media for calling 911, and described how the girl's actions follow a pattern of good deeds to her neighbours. 

"There are a number of seniors in our building … and I see that little girl running downstairs to grab grocery bags and carry them in for them," said Baskin.

After the car fire, Baskin paid a visit to the Beaulieu family the following day to deliver a gift and thank Grace-Ellen for calling 911. It was during that visit that Baskin learned about the family's struggles.

"This young family who saved my home and made it possible for me to sleep, can't sleep themselves and don't know where their next meal is coming from. I can't live with that," said Baskin.

"It's my civic duty to do for them what they have done for me."

Baskin has started an online fundraising campaign to help the Beaulieu family with food and rent. She has also reached out to her building manager to see it they can find a place for them to live. 

Grace-Ellen meets some Yellowknife firefighters. The 8-year-old was invited to the fire hall to ride in the fire truck and receive a certificate of acknowledgement from the fire chief. (Farren Beaulieu)

What the Beaulieu family is experiencing is a part of a big problem, said Baskin.

"I want to help this one family, but we have to make this a real conversation because she's not the only little girl going to bed hungry, and that can't go on," said Baskin.

Over 300 people are experiencing homelessness in Yellowknife, according to a 2021 city report. One in five of those were children or dependents, according to the report.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rose Danen

Reporter

Rose Danen is a small-town reporter from Ontario. She loves telling stories about politics, social inequality, and small communities. She previously reported for CBC North in Yellowknife. She can be reached at rose.danen@cbc.ca.

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