Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gimli family 'lost everything' in fire

Father, son suffer serious injuries in New Year's Day blaze

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He lost his wife to cancer three years ago and his dad months later. Now Greg Welch, 41, and his son are in hospital after a New Year's Day house fire.

A cooking fire in their Gimli rental home sent the widower and his son, Jordan, 18, to Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg. While they recover, friends, family and strangers are trying to help them start over.

"They've had a tough go of it," Ian Tarnowski, Welch's brother-in-law, said in an interview Wednesday. Welch's wife was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and died one month later, he said. Seven months after her death, Greg's dad had a fatal heart attack.

On New Year's Day, Greg suffered burns to his shoulder and a fracture in his neck from the fire that broke out at about 4:30 a.m. He has been upgraded to stable condition.

Jordan is in critical condition with burns to 65 per cent of his body. Jordan's sister, Jayda, 12, was not hospitalized but is scratched and bruised and is resting at her grandparents' home, said Tarnowski.

"We are trying to give this family a hand up when they need it the most," Tarnowski said in a prepared statement issued later in the day.

A fund is being set up at CIBC for donations to help the family, he said. A Welch Family Fund has also been set up at the Gimli Credit Union.

"We are looking for donations of any kind -- big or small -- from cash donations to gently used clothing to furniture or anything you can think of that you would need to start a life over again from scratch," said Tarnowski. "When you have nothing, every little bit counts."

Cash donations can be made at the Gimli CIBC branch.

"They're good people," the Welch's neighbour and landlady said through tears Wednesday. "It's another tough blow for them."

The woman, who did not want her name published, said she and her husband have been renting the 1,200-square-foot home to Welch.

When her husband woke up Tuesday, he saw a fire truck next door.

"I slipped on my housecoat and a jacket," she said.

She ran to the burning home on the acreage next door and saw Jordan's and Greg's vehicles in the yard.

She feared the worst -- that the Welches hadn't made it out of the house on time.

"It was very scary."

The police told her the two men were already taken to hospital.

"I'm relieved, and scared about what's happened to them."

The RCMP said there were nine people in the house at the time of the fire. The owner next door said she wasn't aware of other people being at the home or anything going on there that night.

She and her husband visited the father and son in hospital Tuesday night, she said.

"I walked in and Greg said sorry and Jordan said sorry," she said through sobs.

"They lost everything."

She and her husband don't care about the house. That can be replaced, she said. They're just glad everyone made it out alive.

"We got attached to them."

They've invited the now-homeless family to stay in their three-bedroom basement suite when they're released from hospital, she said.

"We told them 'You're welcome to live there as long as you want,' " their neighbour said.

The Manitoba Office of the Fire Commissioner was contacted and attended the scene. Damage estimates were not available Wednesday, but the residence sustained extensive damage, police said.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 3, 2013 A5

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