It was a regular day at Beggar’s Banquet Books in Gananoque. Christmas holiday shopping hours were just extended and the owners, Tom Stormonth and Alison Dunn, were making the drive back to their home on Howe Island, heading towards the Joyceville Ferry just after 7p.m. on Friday night.
They got a call from a neighbour who was worried about them, as fire trucks were heading toward their house.
The fire was discovered by another neighbour who happened to take a step out of the house to have a cigarette and looked over at the family’s home, originally thinking it was a large campfire until the flames shot up.
He quickly called 911 after seeing the flames, explained Stormonth.
“I was driving as fast as I could to the Joyceville Ferry,” said Stormonth, adding they arrived at the ferry just after a first responder did, and he couldn’t take his mind off his dog, Lola, who was in the house at the time of the fire.
On the ferry ride to the island, Stormonth said he was able to speak with the first responder who was able to radio through to the chief through the ferry captain’s radio, to find out they were still fighting the fire but the dog was safe.
Soon after the ferry had docked at Howe Island, the two vehicles raced down the road as many fire trucks and emergency vehicles lined the street.
“We ran up to the house and when we got there it was fully engulfed in fire,” said Stormonth.
“We were sitting in the car with our dog, watching our house burn in front of us while firefighters were trying to knock down the flames.”
He described the fire that tore through their home as “fierce and heavy.”
Stormonth said when firefighters first went into the house they thought the dog had died because she was lying still on the floor until she was accidently nudged by a firefighter working to extinguish the fire.
She was found in the back bedroom before the firefighter grabbed her and took her outside where she was given water and a dog oxygen mask.
No human injuries were reported, but Lola the lab has smoke in her lungs and scorching in her throat. However, just a few days later she’s on the mend; she’s being hand-fed soft food and she is getting back to acting like herself again, said Stormonth.
According to Howe Island Fire and Rescue Chief Mike Quinn, it took about four hours for the fire to be extinguished. They arrived on scene just after 7 p.m.
A majority of the house was destroyed by the fire, with an exception of a newer addition that has smoke damage. Firefighters were successful in holding the fire to the main area of the house, said Quinn, adding that it appears the fire began at and around the pellet stove.
“The whole front part of our house is gone,” said Stormonth.
Currently Stormonth, Dunn and Lola are currently staying in the upstairs apartment above the Old English Pub in Gananoque, a neighbouring business to their own.
However, the fire didn’t stop the pair from going back to work on Monday.
“You can sit at home and let things run through your head or you can occupy yourself,” said Stormonth, adding that he and his wife have segmented the workload: He deals with the insurance company while she works at the store.
“People keep asking us what can they do to help,” he said.
Many people have dropped off food, money and socks, but they’ll figure out other accommodations with the insurance company.
“The best way to help small business owners who are in trouble is by supporting their business. That’s the way you can support us,” said Stormonth.
The bookstore is located at 126 King Street East in Gananoque. The couple took a day off to catch up on some sleep and take care of other things on Tuesday but reopened the shop’s doors again on Wednesday like usual.
By: Jessica Munro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(Jessica Munro is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Brockville Recorder and Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.)