'It was a very long day': Family suffers car rollover, devastating house fire in 1 day
Aunt crashes car on way to fire that destroyed grandparents' home
Tori Hawkins says Jan. 6 is not a day she'll soon forget.
While driving with her boyfriend to the scene of her grandparents' house fire in Beaver Harbour, the 21-year-old psychology student at the University of New Brunswick's Saint John campus came upon a highway accident near Musquash.
It turned out to be Hawkins's aunt, who had lost control on the icy highway and rolled her Nissan subcompact.
Melissa Hanley, 43, had also been told about the fire and was on her way to help.
"When I got there, the little blue car was on its side," said Tori.
"She was still in there."
Hawkins said the attending paramedics were worried about the bitter cold that morning and its potential impact on their patient as she sat trapped inside the vehicle.
Recorded temperatures that day hovered between –18 C and –21 C.
Hawkins said it took a few hours for emergency crews to free her aunt by cutting off the vehicle's roof.
Once that ordeal was over, Hawkins and her boyfriend got back into their vehicle and continued on to Beaver Harbour and the neighbourhood where she grew up.
Emergency crews there were keeping bystanders at a distance, so Hawkins watched from the yard of the nearby Baptist church, as smoke rolled into the sky from the home that her grandparents had occupied for 40 years.
Heat gun leads to fire
Marilyn and Eldon Hanley, both in their 70s, had woken up Saturday morning to frozen pipes.
Eldon Hanley had started using a heat gun to try to thaw them.
Heat guns are electrical appliances that resemble hair dryers and some can emit air as hot as 500 C.
They're often used to strip paint.
But as Hawkins pointed out, "everybody uses them to thaw frozen pipes."
Her father Paul was on his way to the Hanley homestead when he got the message that a fire had started.
When he arrived, he said he looked under the skirting of the trailer and saw smoke.
Because the pipes were frozen and there was no running water, Paul tried to use snow to put out the fire.
He said it wasn't working and when he saw flames, he urged the senior Hanleys to get out immediately.
They left with nothing more than what they were wearing and their 14-year-old dog, Sandy.
A man who worked with Paul, who was also there, went back into the smoke-filled trailer to save the couple's cat, by following the sounds of his meowing.
House completely destroyed
There's nothing left of the home now but charred wood and twisted metal. A separate garage, where Eldon Hanley stored his tools, remains largely intact.
The couple's home was not insured, because of its age and because it had a wood stove.
Hawkins's mother says the loss for their family is shocking.
"Everything they've worked for, all their lives, is gone," said Wendy Hawkins.
"All our childhood memory pictures. Things you can't replace. But I'm glad I have them."
Thankful for community response
Wendy Hawkins said she also finds some comfort in the community's response.
She said people have stopped her to hand her envelopes, many filled with donations, which she has yet to count.
The Red Cross came by the day of the fire with a kit of essentials for her parents as well as some emergency funds so they could buy some food and other basics, including underwear.
Her father didn't even get a chance to put on socks, she said.
Cooke Aquaculture also made a generous donation, she said, wishing to thank them.
"We're just so thankful we live where we live," said Wendy.
"Because this community is amazing."
'It was a very long day'
Tori Hawkins said her grandparents were reluctant to give an interview because they're still rattled and upset. But she said, overall, they're doing surprisingly well.
For the next few months, they'll be able to live in Eldon Hanley's sister's home while she is with family out west.
As for the aunt who rolled her car, Hawkins says it seems she suffered nothing more serious than a concussion.
When asked how she'll remember Jan. 6, Hawkins recalls other misfortunes that struck that day.
Her father also had to deal with broken pipes and flooding that damaged a rental property. Also, her cousin's dog died.
"It was a very long day," she said.