COMBERMERE – March 15 will be a day that Eileen Fay and Peter Fright won’t forget in a hurry.
As The Valley Gazette reported in their March 21 edition, the couple’s home on Tamarack Road, Blackfish Bay – an older cottage with a brand new addition – was burned to the ground when lightning struck in the early hours. It was one of the worst fires Andrew Peplinski, fire chief for Madawaska Valley, had ever encountered and even with a crew of more than 20 firefighters, they were unable to stop the blaze. Thankfully Fay, Fright and their guest escaped without harm.
Fay and Fright, originally from the United Kingdom, became regular visitors to Madawaska Valley after an aunt and uncle stayed with them on a visit to the UK for a funeral, and told them about the spectacular lake near Ski Island.
Intrigued, Fay, Fright and their sons decided to visit their aunt and uncle on Kamaniskeg Lake in 1996, and were so bowled over with the beautiful scenery and serenity; they decided “this is the most wonderful lake in the world.”
They returned to Kamaniskeg Lake every year until 2001, when they decided this would have to be their last visit, as their sons were off to university and family holidays would be difficult to arrange.
However, two days before they were due to return to the UK, they knew they couldn’t leave this stunning place behind, and promptly bought a cottage on Blackfish Bay.
After returning to England, they started the immigration process in 2004, and were granted permanent residency in 2008. The couple then moved to the small cottage they had bought, making do with the limited space, and started their new life in Canada.
In 2010, they decided to build an addition that would transform the cramped cottage into a spacious, comfortable, dream home. The addition was completed in time for them to move in on Christmas Eve of that year. However, they only had a few short months to enjoy their new home when tragedy struck in the form of a violent and destructive lightning storm. Three poplars were hit and the lightning travelled through the ground, through the house and out the other side; there was also a direct hit to the house itself which Fay describes as “a huge bang, like a bomb going off.”
The smoke alarms did not go off because there was no smoke in the house, despite the fire raging in the walls and roof and blowing the window frames into the house.
It was the bomb-like blast that woke the couple and their guest and they were able to escape, along with their two schnauzers, Otto and Suzie. Fay described the fire chief as “absolutely fantastic” in the way he handled the situation and the fire service as “amazing.”
With their dream home burned to the ground, the couple were devastated and even briefly considered returning to the UK. They literally lost everything, including irreplaceable family heirlooms and photos, hundreds of books and of course all their furniture, appliances, kitchen equipment, etc.
However, the very morning of the fire, neighbours and friends responded immediately. Fay recalled one neighbour wrapping her in a blanket, as it was pouring with rain, and other friends and neighbours showing up to help in any way they could.
A friend took the dogs away to look after them, and Fay and Fright were taken to their neighbour’s house and given dry clothes, food and a place to stay. In fact, many individuals and families offered them long-term accommodation for as long as they needed.
Story continues in the October 10, 2012 issue of The Valley Gazette.