Fire, smoke ruin Aylmer house

·3 min read

After a fire broke out in their Aylmer home, Ken Clunas and his sons, Paul and Danny, escaped unharmed, but have been displaced in the aftermath.

The house was destroyed by fire, believed to have originated with an electric bike plugged into an extension cord, on Thursday, March 11. There was significant smoke damage to the entire building, said Aylmer Fire Chief Sam Taylor, and damages are estimated at $350,000.

All three men were in the 144 Sydenham Street West home when the fire started. Danny heard a loud bang noise and smelled smoke, and became alerted to the fire. Danny was in his room at the time, Paul was upstairs, and Ken was in the living room.

“The first indication I had that anything was wrong – the power went out. I got up to ask why the power went out, and I heard someone yell ‘fire,’” said Paul.

Danny said he heard some fire alarms sounding, though Paul didn’t notice as he was caught up in the moment. Paul said the house had five smoke alarms: three hardwired (one in the basement, kitchen, and hallway) and two battery-operated (one in the living room and one in Danny’s room).

All three quickly escaped before fire crews arrived. They also own three animals who got out unharmed – one Australian cattle dog and two cats. One of the cats went missing in the aftermath, but came back at about 3 a.m. the next day.

Aylmer Fire Department volunteer firefighters were dispatched at 5:53 p.m. and arrived on scene eight minutes later.

“There were flames coming out of basement and main floor when they arrived,” said Aylmer Fire Chief Sam Taylor.

Water was applied to the structure at 6:04 p.m. The department used an aerial truck and broke open windows with a fire axe to ventilate the roof. There was plenty of smoke in the area, which drew in dozens of spectators.

21 out of the department’s 26 firefighters were on scene. Chief Taylor considered this a good turnout, and attributed that to the timing of the incident. No mutual aid departments were called in.

Erie Thames Powerlines (ERTH) and EPCOR utilities were on scene to shut down gas and utilities. There was an Emergency Medical Services unit on standby in case of any injuries.

Chief Taylor said there were no working fire alarms found in the home.

Firefighters were back at the station at 10:11 p.m., with some back sooner. Others stayed on scene until the insurance restoration company arrived to assess damages.

The fire originated in the basement and was believed to be caused by an electric bike plugged into an extension cord. “It could have been anything – a charger malfunction, or an electrical short on the bike,” said Chief Taylor.

“Everyone involved has been nothing but helpful and friendly, especially the people around town,” said Paul of local reaction to the fire. He added that many local businesses have offered to help. The Bargain Shop offered Paul supplies, and nearby McDonald’s has offered their washroom to use, while he waited for a portable washroom to be put in place at the garage.

While the response has mostly been supportive, Paul added he has needed to dispel multiple rumours around town about the cause of the fire.

“The only thing that upset me was that there was somebody walking down the street, and decided to post it on the Aylmer Facebook group,” said Paul’s cousin, Angela Clunas. “People don’t think – if that’s your place, do you really want your family to find out that way?”

Paul is now residing in the garage on the property, undamaged by the fire, along with all three animals. Ken and Danny are staying at a hotel in St. Thomas.

Veronica Reiner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Aylmer Express