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Couple displaced by west end fire touched by community response

Garage fire at 365 West Acres Dr. on March 11 caused an estimated $200,000 damage

Werner Eitzen and Debbie Sippel Eitzen were getting ready for an online yoga class.

But as Werner was using the central vacuum system at their West Acres Drive home – tidying up ahead of class – the vac’s suction slowed down, which he found odd.

“I went downstairs, opened the garage door (where the vac was plugged in) and looked at the outlet and it was connected,” he said.

“When I turned right, I noticed that the top of the central vac was on fire.”

Werner, a 66-year-old retired Manulife worker, tried a couple times to put the fire out using an extinguisher. But it didn’t do much.

“We were in yoga clothes, and he was in shorts and bare feet. Looked pretty ridiculous coming out,” Debbie, a 65-year-old retired teacher, said. “I luckily put on a sweater cause I was feeling chilly.”

Debbie called 911 while in the doorway to the second floor bedroom at the time.

“I kind of froze. I was thinking ‘oh well (the fire is) in the garage,’” she said. “The garage is below me, not thinking at all about that.”

She put a coat and boots on, got out of the house safely, and ran across the street.

Fire crews came in to put the blaze out, which charred the entirety of the garage and part of the second floor above.

The March 11 fire caused an estimated $200,000 in damage.

In their escape, the Eitzen’s didn’t have time to look for their two cats.

“We mentioned that to the firefighters,” Werner said. “They looked for the cats, and our older one, (an 18-year-old named Kira) ran past them and went upstairs, but they managed to catch her.

“She’s not very fast anymore, so they managed to catch her and brought her out to us.”

Their other cat, 13-year-old Mika, was spotted by fire officials but they couldn’t find him.

Neighbours who took Kira in provided some cat food, and the fire inspector put the food in a bowl in the basement. 

Later on when Werner went downstairs to take a look around, the food was noticeably eaten, signalling to him that Mika was still alive, but obviously scared from everything that was happening.

“The smoke detector was going on the entire time, so he had to listen to that all night and all day,” Debbie added.

Werner remembers shaking some food to entice his younger pet, and heard the rattle of a bell. 

Mika sprinted past the couple, but eventually was caught and brought over to be reunited with Kira.

Both cats appear to be healthy and safe, the couple confirm.

As for Werner and Debbie, the two went to a hotel initially, but are now staying with a friend.

“(The community has) been very supportive, asking how they can help,” Debbie said, adding it’s still overwhelming at the moment amid the craziness.

“They have been going ahead and doing some things, like donations and food and buying some stuff for the cats.

“We’re very grateful for it.”

As of Thursday afternoon, insurance and restoration workers have been on scene.

The home, which carries over 40 years of memories for the retired couple, is uninhabitable.

The hope is to return to the home once all the work is done and they get the green light.

But while crews work through the home, the Eitzen’s are looking for a place to rent that is both furnished and pet friendly.

“We have some people looking, but the more (options) the better,” Werner said.

“People know people who might have something available for us. We’re staying with somebody right now, but we don’t want to impose on her. We can’t bring our pets over either.”


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Mark Pare

About the Author: Mark Pare

Originally from Timmins, ON, Mark is a longtime journalist and broadcaster, who has worked in several Ontario markets.
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