Mike and Maggie Blankman at her mother’s home with their dog, Koda. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

Fernie family loses home, community responds

Blankman’s thankful for support from family, friends and strangers

On the morning of Christmas Eve, Maggie and Mike Blankman watched from the street as their house went up in flames. The house, where they raised their kids, is now gone, along with all their belongings.

On December 23, the Blankman’s went to bed at 10:15 p.m. Mike had to work the next day, and usually wakes up around 5 a.m.

He was awoken at 3:30 a.m. to a loud noise and a bright light coming through the window. At first he thought it was just a full moon.

“I opened the curtain, looked out the window, and the back deck was on fire and the back of the house was all on fire, and I grabbed my wife, shook her and said ‘you’ve got to get up our house is burning’.”

Maggie scrambled out of bed, grabbed their dog and attempted to get upstairs to where their 21-year-old son, Caleb, was sleeping. Mike recalled seeing flames bursting through the back patio door, with smoke billowing in.

“We’re yelling Caleb, Caleb, there’s just no answer,” said Mike. “Finally a few minutes later he yells behind us ‘Get out of the house, I’m okay I’m outside’.”

Caleb had managed to escape out his window, jumping off the roof onto the driveway in his bare feet. Although his feet were cut, Mike says he was just grateful he had escaped. He believes just a few more minutes and they would have lost their son.

“We were very fortunate to get out with our lives,” said Mike.

Mike said that he is amazed he even woke up. Both Mike and Maggie sleep with earplugs as Mike suffers from sleep apnea. Neighbours came to their door, banging on it to wake them up. He believes it might have been this that woke him.

The fire department arrived 10 minutes after the call was made. The Blankmans were able to move their vehicles out of the garage so that the fire department was better able to fight the fire.

“They did really good, it feels like an eternity though when you’re waiting,” said Maggie.

Three vehicles and 10 firefighters arrived on scene, where they performed a defensive attack to protect adjacent homes. After they arrived, the Blankmans left their home and walked to Maggie’s mother’s place, not far away.

“It was just too much to watch, it’s disheartening,” said Mike. “Everything that you worked for all your life, all the memories of raising your children, just to see it gone…”

“You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone.”

As of right now the cause of the fire is undetermined.

Mike has lived in Fernie since 1972. Maggie and Mike moved from the trailer park to their new home on MacDonald Avenue in 2001. This was a big move for them.

When word got out about what had happened, an endless stream of people started showing up at Maggie’s mother’s home, offering gifts of clothing, food, gift cards, money and even dog food for their Husky, Koda.

Even on Christmas day, people kept showing up bearing gifts for the family. The Blankman’s couldn’t believe that people took time out of their family traditions to think about them.

“The outpouring of community support from family, friends and strangers is…” said Maggie.

“I’ve never seen anything like it.” continued Mike. “It’s incredible how much people care.”

Many thousands of dollars have been raised for the family so far, and several community funds have been set up. Mike has been working for Teck for 25 years, this year. The company called him to make sure he was okay, and immediately set up a fund for his family which many workers have donated to. The Salvation Army was the first to step up and extend a helping hand. They gave each family member several sets of clothes, as well as jackets and boots.

Now that they’ve had a few days to think about everything, the Blankman’s admit their emotions are all over the board. For now, they’re going to focus on keeping their heads up and moving on.

“We’ll move forward, we’ll rebuild, start our lives over again,” said Mike.

“And give back to our community,” added Maggie.

Maggie admitted they had a lot of things, and not everything was replaceable. However, moving forward, she doesn’t think they will replace all of it.

The Blankman’s have signed up to be Angels in next year’s Snow Valley Christmas Cheer Committee’s Christmas event, which focuses on not leaving anyone behind. This committee, dedicated to helping local individuals in need, is organized by Jeri Mitchell and Rhoda Deluca. Both these ladies were instrumental in the raising of funds for the Blankman family. Maggie and Mike say they can’t thank them enough.

Maggie and Mike have always supported community fundraisers, spaghetti dinners, etc., however they never really knew how people on the receiving end felt. They admit that what happened, was tragic. However they said if they had to have this happen anywhere to them, they would want it to happen in Fernie.

“Fernie; I’ll never leave it. Never.” said Maggie. “Because it’s… it’s family.”

The entire Blankman family would like to extend a massive Thank You to their Elk Valley family, as well as anyone else from surrounding communities who have helped out.

They are currently staying with Maggie’s mother, Pearl, however, they are seeking a place to rent.

To donate physical items, contact Jeri at 250-423-0546 or Rhoda at 250-423-0606. Debbie Baker is continuing to accept email money transfers at dwbaker@shaw.ca.

Correction notice: Paragraph 10 stated the Fire Department responded in 18 minutes. This is incorrect. They responded to the scene in 10 minutes.

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