By Geoff Agombar
Local Journalism Initiative
Three buildings were destroyed early Boxing Day morning in Farnham, leaving ten people without a home.
A suspected electrical fire started around 6 a.m. in a closely packed section of Rue Saint-Jean at the corner of Rue Saint-Joseph.
The blaze quickly spread to engulf four residences in two single-family homes and a duplex.
Patrick Morin, director of the Service de sécurité incendie de Farnham, told one publication that the first caller reported hearing an explosion. Morin reported that the fire had already jumped to the nearby buildings by the time trucks from his station arrived around 6:30 a.m.
Morin estimated more than 40 firefighters from seven neighbouring municipalities responded to contain the flames and prevent spread to further buildings.
The fires were under control by 10:30 a.m. according to Morin, but firefighters stayed on site to monitor hot spots that could reignite. The age of the buildings meant multiple layers of finishing had been added during various renovations, which necessitated particular attention, Morin explained.
Electricity was cut in the surrounding area to protect first responders during the operation, and only re-established later that afternoon.
Farnham mayor Patrick Melchior says the focus shifted immediately to caring for the victims.
In the hours after the fire, Melchior opened the doors to Town Hall, so the victims could gather and meet with the Red Cross. The Red Cross provided food and worked to relocate the families to temporary lodgings. Some were able to go to family in the area. Those who could not have been moved to a nearby hotel with the Red Cross’s support.
By the next morning, Farnham’s Centre d’action bénévoles (CAB) and town council had already kicked off a donations drive, opening the Romuald Potvin Centre to receive contributions. The event was initially scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon, but was extended due to the strong response.
Reached by phone CAB director Jean Valiquette answered questions between chimes of the front door as donors walked in off the street. “What’s happening now is we are receiving donations—monetary, food, clothing, furniture, et cetera—in conjunction with the municipal council. The mayor opened a room right next to the CAB and we’re all working together to help these people.”
“The CAB has always been first in line to help emergency victims,” Valiquette affirms. “We left our homes, cancelled our vacation plans, and we’re here this morning to help.”
Melchior says to contact the CAB to add your name to the list if you want to donate bulkier items like furniture, dishes and appliances. “The CAB manages all that. They are building a list and will contact everyone. Logistically, that’s more complex and we prefer to wait for now.”
One bright spot: the call is for adult-sized clothing. “Thankfully, there were no children involved. We know it’s that much more difficult with children.” Melchior says. “I don’t have all the sizes, but everyone affected is an adult.” confirms Melchior.
Melchior confirms that the three buildings are expected to be total losses due to heavy damages from the fire, as well as water and ice. “There’s never a good time for a fire, but the day after Christmas, it’s even harder.”
The Red Cross will support the victims during the first three days, but Melchior assures the community will continue to support the families beyond that.
In 2018, Farnham established the Fondation du maire de la ville de Farnham to fund a variety of local priorities, including supporting vulnerable citizens.
“We’ll see how things play out but, certainly the Fondation du maire will help if needed,” adds Melchior. “Of course, we’d always prefer to avoid such a situation, but we’ll be as available as possible to help as much as possible.”