Terminal cancer patient victim of 1 of 3 fires in Winnipeg on Christmas Day

Terminal cancer patient victim of 1 of 3 fires in Winnipeg on Christmas Day

Doctors told Caroline Keeper that her terminal cancer would likely claim her life before Christmas, but she survived only to watch all of her family's gifts go up in flames on Christmas Day.

Around 5 a.m. Monday morning, Keeper was in bed when she heard one of her adult daughters screaming. Her husband rushed upstairs, where thick black smoke was coming from a closet in one of the rooms. 

In that room were all the freshly wrapped presents for Keeper's 17 grandchildren, three of whom — a one-month-old baby, a two-year-old and a five-year-old — also lived in the house.

The family made it out safely, but Keeper says the fire, smoke and water from the firefighters ruined everything.

"When you see it on the news, other people's homes, your heart just goes out. And then when it actually happens, it's horrific and all, but I'm so thankful that we all got out," Keeper said.

Keeper had recently ceased her chemotherapy treatments, which she said were no longer effective at treating her cancer. Her family had an early Christmas celebration because she hadn't expected to live to see this one. 

She spent the night at her other daughter's house up the street from where she lived. After friends heard about what happened, they brought over food for a Christmas meal, including turkey, ham and trimmings. 

The response from friends lifted Keeper's spirits, but the next morning it "reality kicked in," she said.

"I'm not at home, I'm not getting up in my own bed," she said.

Now, Keeper says all she wants is her photos of her children. "I don't even know if they're salvageable."

Keeper says she hasn't heard about any possible cause of the fire yet. 

Apartment building fire

The fire at Keeper's house was one of three on Christmas Day.

On Kay Crescent in Crestview, everyone was forced out of a 24-suite building around 11:30 a.m.

Fire officials said it was caused by a worker trying to thaw out a water line. 

Crews had to open up walls, ceilings and floors to contain the fire.

But several tenants were able to return home the same afternoon, officials said. 

Elgin Avenue blaze

The lone tenant in a house on Elgin Avenue was able to get out after a fire broke out on the second floor of a two-storey home around 6:30 p.m. 

Firefighters went in and rescued two pets, a cat and a gerbil, from the blaze. 

The cause of the fire is under investigation, as is the cause of the Flora fire, but a fire official said neither has been deemed suspicious. 

Earlier this month, assistant fire chief Ihor Holowczynsky told CBC News that winter weather can exacerbate fires. 

"Often in winter there's an increase in the intensity of the fire. Air is typically more dense in colder weather, so there's more oxygen available for fires to burn," he said. 

Damage estimates were not available Tuesday for any of Monday's three fires.