Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Million-dollar fire takes home

Arson squad investigates as one home razed, another damaged

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The city's arson strike force is searching for the cause of a million-dollar blaze in Crescentwood.

Two neighbouring houses on McMillan Avenue caught fire early Tuesday morning.

Geoffrey Owen, 47, burned his hand and feet while escaping the flames consuming his home. He was treated for smoke inhalation after firefighters rescued him from a rear-porch roof.

Fire ripped through the home, destroying it and badly damaging a home next door.

Police say the blaze broke out around 2:20 a.m., in the home not far from Confusion Corner.

"Within two minutes of waking, I was on the roof of my house in my underwear," Owen said. "I was scared for my life. I knew if I had to I could jump."

Owen said he first woke up to "the sound of crackling" and when he went down the stairs he could see fire.

"I woke up in the middle of the night to violent sounds," he said, adding he went down the stairs, tried opening the main-floor door and "was hit by a wall of flames."

Owen said he went back to the second floor and escaped through a window. "I have an escape plan, luckily I did. I knew I could escape through the window.

"The smoke came so fast... it filled the house," he said. "My life is destroyed right now. Everything of mine is destroyed."

Next door to Owen, Mike Dillabough lives with his daughter, Michelle Cleland, and his girlfriend, Marla. Their home was heavily damaged, and Dillabough believes it can't be salvaged.

He was sleeping when he woke to the sound of his daughter yelling, "Fire, fire."

The family ran out with a couple of pets, but two cats couldn't be found.

Firefighters carried the cats, Lucy and Winston, to safety hours later, to a relieved Michelle, who broke down in tears.

Dillabough said the family is blessed they got out unharmed.

"It makes you realize how important fire safety is. The house engulfed only minutes after we got up."

A neighbour, Carla Bellman, said just after 2 a.m. Tuesday she heard someone yelling, "Get out!" and ran outside to see what the commotion was about.

She watched as firefighters got Owen safely down from the roof, adding he looked "traumatized."

Bellman watched the Dillaboughs' house burn with a feeling of déj vu. She watched a fire destroy a house that stood in that spot five years ago.

A spokesman with the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service said flames melted natural gas meters on both damaged homes, causing a gas leak.

The natural gas travelled through the ground, filling nearby basements.

Neighbouring houses and an apartment block around the corner were evacuated as a precaution. Residents who had nowhere to go used a city bus for shelter in the wee hours of the morning.

The severely damaged house will be demolished after Manitoba Hydro declares the area safe for operating heavy machinery.

There is no word on a cause, but Owen's home is considered a total loss, firemen said. Damage to the houses is estimated to be $600,000 and $400,000.

kelly.graham@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 25, 2012 B1

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