By Tina Comeau
Whenever Lee Atkinson’s maltese dog Harley heard the slightest sound, he’d bark. At times it was a bit annoying, says the dog's owner.
But thank God for Harley on the morning of June 20, when the small dog barked to alert Atkinson that the house the pair lived in at 1000 Lakeside Road was on fire.
“I was in bed and I was sleeping and my dog started barking. I woke up. I was upstairs and the smoke was just pouring up the stairway up the stairs. I could barely see,” Atkinson said Wednesday morning, as from across the street he watched as his family home was being consumed by smoke and fire. The house had belonged to the Atkinson family since 1958. Lee Atkinson had purchased the home from his father Basil a few years earlier.
Although there had been many renovations to the home over the years, and a section could have been built onto the back of the home, a stairway at the rear of the house still existed and Atkinson used that as his escape route. He couldn’t see any flames, and having been abruptly awoken from his sleep he was dazed as to what was going on.
“There was a door to the back stairwell that was closed so the smoke wasn’t getting in there, so I went through there. Actually the power was still working so I had a light on up there,” he said, although by that time the back porch was filling up quite a bit with smoke.
“I came out of the house, I was in a daze. I put my dog in my truck and then I kind of just started walking around the house trying to figure out what was going on,” says Atkinson. “There was no flame, it was just smoke. I had some windows open and the smoke was coming out of the windows.”
The homeowner called 911 and by that time flames were starting to shoot out of the back windows of the house.
Firefighters from several Yarmouth County fire departments responded to the fire and were still on the scene of the stubborn house fire hours later.
When firefighters arrived on the scene at around 5:30 a.m. Wednesday morning the house was fully engulfed. The cause of the fire was unknown at the time, although later in the day it was reported that the fire marshall's office said the fire could be blamed on a faulty piece of electrical equipment, namely a paper shredder.
The house suffered extensive damage as a result of the fire, with the blaze gutting much of the inside and exterior damage caused by the fire itself and also efforts to combat the blaze.
By 9:30 a.m. smoke continued to pour out of the home and flames could still be seen shooting out from parts of the home.
While manpower was needed early on to tackle the fire, Wednesday morning water was in demand, as pumpers kept bringing water to the scene to fight the fire.
Firefighters were unable to fight the fire from inside the home so they were having to attack it from the exterior. The Yarmouth Fire Department’s aerial ladder truck came to the scene around 9 a.m. Wednesday morning to douse the top of the home with water.
Firefighters from the Yarmouth, Port Maitland, Wedgeport and Lake Vaughn fire departments were all on the scene. A portion of Lakeside Road was closed to traffic while firefighters were on the scene.
On Wednesday evening the Yarmouth Fire Department had to go back to the scene after the fire had flared up again.
Aside from his dog, the only thing Atkinson was able to grab as he fled from his home was a pair of shorts that contained his wallet.
As he sat across the road and watched firefighters doing their work Wednesday morning, he remarked about how fortunate he was to have made it out of the home safely. And he also had praise for his dog.
“We always complained because every time he hears a little noise he’d bark and we always said 'stop it, stop it.' I’m glad he did this time."