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Fire destroys Innisfail dream home

Family of seven homeless; town rallying to support family of Innisfail community builder Grace Gresos

INNISFAIL – Two and a half years ago Grace Gresos told the Albertan that when she left the Philippines in 2007 to come to Innisfail her dream was to work hard and have a new family home.

Nine years later the family saved enough to buy their dream house in the town’s Hazelwood Estates subdivision.

Dream earned and achieved.

But in an instant on May 16 it was all gone; destroyed by a sudden roaring fire.

“We saw a fire to the back of the building and it really was engaged. You could tell it was going to be a big one,” said neighbour Angela Shaw. “And then about three minutes later all the fire trucks arrived and firemen took good control of the scene and got water on it as quick as they could.

“But by the time they got there it was completely involved.”

The next day Gresos was at the house with family members meeting security people tasked to guard the ruins of their cherished home.

She said the most important fact at that moment was that her family was safe.

“I think God is always with me, no matter what,” said Gresos. “All the material things can be replaced. I know the memories. They can’t be taken out of our hearts and minds.

“Maybe we have to start again. Once you fall you have to get up, that’s what has happened to me. Being me as a strong woman is always a test of my faith.”

In the meantime, the community is rallying around the family to provide support, much like what Gresos, the chairperson of Phil-Can Neighbourhod Association of Innisfail, has done for years in Innisfail.

“It's just so devastating to hear what has happened and I know this community will rally around Grace and her family because she has done so much for Innisfail,” said Mayor Jean Barclay. “I'm sure there'll be many opportunities for support from the community to her.”

As for the fire, Gary Leith, chief of the Innisfail Fire Department, said his station received a call at about 11 a.m. on May 16 about a house fire at 6329 – 58th Ave.

“We had our two engine trucks on scene within six minutes for the original call,” said Leith, adding firefighters just returned from a medical assist call.

“We had resources already at the fire hall, so people didn't need to get there.”

Leith said a request was made to the Penhold Fire Department for a ladder truck. In total, about 20 firefighters responded to the call.

He said when firefighters arrived the blaze had become fully involved on the main floor.

“As we deployed our hoses the fire took off. The winds were quite high,” said Leith, adding the fire started in the home’s west corner. “When the occupants realized there was a fire, they opened doors within the property and the window at the rear failed, which allowed the wind to drive the fire rapidly through the property.”

He said three of the seven family members were in the house when the fire started; Gresos’ husband, a daughter-in-law and a three-year-old grandson.

They were not injured and got out of the house safely.

Leith said the radiant heat from the “extremely intense” blaze that had taken hold in the house resulted in significant property damage to homes immediately north and south of the Gresos property.

The fire also spread to half an acre of grass in an open field behind the Gresos home.

“We had significant challenges straight off the hop,” said Leith, adding his team successfully handled the ground fire. “We had to defend and try to save those properties, which thankfully we were also successful in doing.

Leith said firefighters battled the blaze until 3 p.m. but the house is considered a write-off.

As for the cause of the blaze, Leith said last week fire investigators were at the scene on May 17.

“It's not thought to be suspicious in nature at this time, not likely to be,” said Leith.

A GoFundMe page called Gresos House Fire Recovery Funds has been started to support the family.

“Thank you so much to the people for all the love and support. It made us strong,” said a grateful Gresos, whose devout faith remains intact. “My faith never lessens. It makes me stronger at this moment.

“Maybe I question but it won’t be gone. The Lord is always guiding with me.”

Johnnie Bachusky

About the Author: Johnnie Bachusky

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