A Smiths Falls family is appreciative of all the support from the local community after fire destroyed their home and barn.
It's been a week since a fire tore through the Northern Lights Equine horse farm just outside of Smiths Falls, leaving Francis Audet and his partner, Debbie Baldwin, with almost nothing.
The fire broke out on Sept. 23 and destroyed most of the property, including the apartment the two lived in and the barn.
"It's gone, there's nothing left. We have no home, no barn, nothing," said Baldwin.
"It's gone to the ground," added Audet.
It was around 3 p.m. last Thursday when Audet first noticed the fire and tried to extinguish it himself – before noticing the ceiling was starting to come down and getting out of the house with a handful of things.
Baldwin said she was out running errands when the fire happened and by the time she arrived home the house was already fully engulfed.
According to the GoFundMe page started by Marie Baldwin and Natasha Linton, the fire started inside the walls of the apartment above the barn and quickly spread through the entire establishment. Firefighters worked tirelessly throughout the day to extinguish the fire, only to have it reignite and spread further later in the day, which caused the fire department to pull down the building to aid in extinguishing the flames.
The Drummond/North Elmsley, Tay Valley Fire Township, and Smiths Falls fire departments responded to the call at the almost 60-year old horse farm last Thursday afternoon.
Currently Audet and Baldwin are staying in their RV in their neighbours' front yard, but the horses are in their paddocks outside on their property. Audet said they would bring the horses inside to feed them so they've set up small stalls outside for the meantime.
No one was injured from the fire. Some of the approximately 18 horses on the property suffered minor injuries from ash and smoke but otherwise are doing OK. However, their daughter's beloved pets and a flock of chickens couldn't be saved from the fire.
"We had two blind girls (horses) behind the barn that we care for; he had to go get them because they were in the line of smoke," said Baldwin.
The couple said they hope to use the funds from the GoFundMe page created by Baldwin's oldest daughter and daughter's best friend to get a trailer that can withstand the winter, winter blankets for the horses, as well as other things for the horses like brushes that all burned.
They are also looking at building sheds for the horses to stay in, as well as a shelter for the farrier or veterinarians to go into if needed that has already been bought.
In just three days the fundraiser has already raised $9,310 of their $100,000 goal to rebuild their lives.
"It's quite incredible because we're used to giving a lot. We help people, we help horses, so to have the reverse happen to us is quite overwhelming," said Audet.
Baldwin agreed. She said it was wonderful to see neighbours and community members help them out. Many people brought horse feed, buckets and fences to create individual places for the horses to eat separately.
The fundraising goal was updated as the family has received a quote for temporary housing on the property throughout the winter months, which is essential to care for the herd, stated the GoFundMe page.
Baldwin explained that the floor plans for their new house have already been done, and building will start as soon as possible, but they are still relying on the short-term winter accommodations.
"It's one of the major reliefs, that we'll be able to have a house as soon as possible," added Audet.
It’s not just money and the donations that the couple is thankful for, but also the help they've received along the way, like the cleanup planned for next week and meals from neighbours.
"We're finding out as we go what we need," said Audet.
The GoFundMe for the Northern Lights Equine horse farm and family can be found at; Fundraiser by Natasha Linton: Family loses everything after fire (gofundme.com).
(Jessica Munro is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Brockville Recorder and Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.)
Jessica Munro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times