My community lost a lovely heritage home to fire last night

sochiMarch 15, 2013

I thought some of you could sympathise, and appreciate, the loss that my neighbourhood suffered last night. Thankfully the owners are safe (as is their cat), and the two firefighters injured fighting the blaze have been released from hospital. But their home, that they lovingly restored and carefully preserved, and where they raised their children, has been gutted. I've been in the house a few times - you guys would have just loved how it was decorated.

It isn't the grandest or largest house in our neighbourhood, but it may be the most loved. Known as the Frechette House, is was one of the jewels in the crown of my community. I've pasted an article below where they discuss the extent of the damage to the heritage home, and here is a picture of it in better times.
They call it a "Gothic Revival Villa" - I wonder about that description, perhaps Pal & others can chime in on that. Regardless the style, its loss is just terrible. A very sad day.

A well-known Ottawa heritage home known as Fréchette House at 87 MacKay St. in New Edinburgh should be “salvageable” according to a local expert with Heritage Ottawa.

Still, the three-alarm fire that injured two firefighters and displaced two people caused an estimated $1 million in damages, mostly to the roof and second floor of the home, which was built in 1877 in the style of a Gothic Revival Villa.

On the scene Friday morning, Leslie Maitland from Heritage Ottawa, a non-profit group, said she knew immediately which house was ablaze when she learned about the fire.

“It’s a very important structure to the city,” she said, noting that the red brick house with yellow brick trim was built at a time when New Edinburgh was becoming an upper middle-class neighbourhood.

Novelist Annie Thomas Howells and her husband, poet and translator Achille Fréchette, lived in the home from 1881 to 1921 and contributed to the neighbourhood’s reputation as a “literary haven” in Ottawa.

While an expert hadn’t yet been on scene to assess the damage or the potential for reconstruction, both Maitland and Marc Messier from Ottawa Fire Service said they were confident the home could be restored.

“The walls seem to be in good condition,” she said looking at the two-storey home. “The roof is gone and the windows,” but “it looks salvageable,” she said.

Messier said while the exterior looked good, the interior of the home would need to be “gutted” as fire, smoke, soot and water had damaged both floors irreparably.

The home’s owners had spent a lot of time and money ensuring the house was kept in good repair, said Maitland.

The home is headquarters of Tim Plumptre and Associates, Inc., a “boutique” consulting firm specializing in public policy issues, run by Plumptre and his wife, Barbara Laskin.

Laskin was still gathering her thoughts when reached by phone Friday morning.

“I’m a bit numb,” she said. “It’s a great house.”

One firefighter was taken to hospital with upper body injuries after part of the roof collapsed, Messier said.

A second member of the crew was treated for first-degree burns due to the level of heat in the upper level of the home, said Messier.

Both firefighters were released from hospital shortly after being treated.

Shortly before midnight, several people called 911 when they saw flames coming from the home at MacKay and Union streets, near the grounds of the governor general’s residence at Rideau Hall.

The blaze proved difficult to contain due largely to the home’s construction, said Messier. “Homes were built stronger back then,” he said, “so it’s more labour-intensive to open them up,” and get at the fire.

He explained that modern walls are mostly just drywall, which is easily brought down by a fire axe, however older walls are built with slats of wood an inch or so wide, with plaster laid over top, sometimes with steel mesh added. “It’s not just a matter of taking an axe” to the wall, Messier said. “You need to hack at it,” so it takes longer and tires the crews out more quickly.

Older homes also have more room between the walls and, usually, a foot of space between the ceiling and the roof. The fire feeds on that space and makes it harder to control, said Messier.

Ottawa Fire Service pegged damages at $1 million because of the building’s heritage status.

Ontario’s Fire Marshal was en route to the scene to investigate what caused the overnight fire, but Messier said they are treating it as an accident likely related to the fireplace and the wooden shingles.

“It looks like it was just a case of bad luck,” he said, positing that a piece of ember could have flown out of the chimney, landed on the roof and sparked the blaze.

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A storybook home--how sad.

So glad everyone is OK. Thank you to our superheroes, the firefighters.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 11:44AM
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I was going to say the same thing. What a beautiful storybook cottage. I love the way it's sequestered behind all the landscaping. At least no one was hurt. I hope it can be restored again.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 12:14PM
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I hate hearing about homes being destroyed. I hope the owners have the strength to rebuild and I'm glad no one was critically injured.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 12:17PM
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Oh so sad! I am glad everyone is now safe but what a loss. The home itself is so lovely I hope it is restored as well as can be.

I always feel so sad when I think of the photos that are lost in house fires. Now with digital photography it is not as concerning but when my aunts house had a fire she lost all her pictures from her childhood and her children's childhoods. Our families pulled all the pics we had of her children and gathered them together in an albulm so she could at least have some real pictures of her family when they were young. I hope the owners may have friends and family that saved their children photos over the years:(.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 12:36PM
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It is a miracle that the fireman wasn't killed, given that part of the roof collapsed on him.

Fortunately the couple that live there were awake, and neighbours alerted them to the fire on the roof. Apparently they were able to save a few previous items from their ground floor, just the one or two things they could grab as they rushed from the house.

As for the house, there is hope it can be rebuilt. Hopefully the insurance company cooperates, as I'm sure it would be cheaper to tear the shell down and build something new.

anele and snookums - storybook is a great description! It really is. I think that is why the house is so precious to everyone in the neighbourhood - it isn't grand or stately, no one really famous lived there, but it is just so, well, lovely.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 12:56PM
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While it is sad that it's damaged, I am happy to hear the owners and their cat are all OK, and that the firefighters were not too seriously injured in trying to save the building. Buildings are just buildings after all, and I hate the idea of people risking their lives to try and save them.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 1:31PM
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What a shame. It is lovely, and the timeless landscaping is just right. Thank goodness no one was seriously hurt. I, too, hope the insurance company will support the restoration and rebuilding of this special house.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 1:35PM
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How sad! What a lovely, lovely house.

I am glad the owners are okay, and was relieved to read that their cat is as well!

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 2:18PM
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That is sad but I am glad to see in the report that restoration is possible. I hope their insurance covers the remodel.

Sometimes I wonder what our generation's architectural legacy will be. I don't see beautiful architure in regular people's new homes. Maybe some dramatic statement in some really highend homes designed by the currently "in" architects but not in the many cookie cutter builder homes for the rest of us.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 2:36PM
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Yes, the loss of heritage property is terrible, because it contributes to the loss of a sense of place and history that connects people to their communities in a way that no uninspired builder special can ever do.

It also reduces the examples of fine craftsmanship that built those houses. I live in an historic area, and fortunately for the cause of preservation, the South was impoverished after the Civil War, and didn't really begin to recover until air conditioning. So development did less damage here than in some other parts of the country.

But like everywhere else, too much of our suburban growth seems to have given us what my DH and I call the Unites States of Generica. You could be anywhere, and the lack of meaning and grace disconnects people from any sense of common purpose.

So Sochi, I understand very well how much the loss hurts your soul. I hope they have whacking good insurance, and help from whatever the local heritage society and government can supply, and the stomach to restore it.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 6:26PM
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Glad everyone is ok, but so heartbreakingly sad. I hope it can be restored and saved.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 7:46PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

What a lovely home...such a shame. So glad no one was seriously hurt, but fire can be so devastating.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 8:28AM
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What a beautiful home, but I am glad everyone is safe. Hope they can rebuild/restore.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 9:23AM
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