Calgary garage fire victims return home to devastating discovery

A Calgary family is reeling after two back-to-back blows just days before Christmas.

“We don’t understand how somebody could do this when we’re already down and out,” said Dave McNeil in front of his home in northeast Calgary. “We were shocked, absolutely shocked.”

On Tuesday morning, fire crews were called to their home in the community of Martindale after reports of smoke billowing from the couple’s garage.

Read more: Calgary fire crews extinguish garage fire in Martindale home Tuesday morning

“I was changing my baby’s diaper and I just happened to notice the smell of smoke in the air,” McNeil’s common-law partner, Holly Chisholm, said. “I just followed it to the garage and I opened the garage door and it was completely black.

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“Within moments, the smoke engulfed the whole house and I ran my baby outside to my truck.”

Thankfully, Chisholm and her two-year-old son were the only people home at the time and managed to make it outside unharmed. Chisholm said she lost one of her four cats and because the family was preparing to move, many of their belongings in their garage were destroyed.

“(We lost) antiques, memorabilia, collectables and all of our sports gear,” Chisholm said. “Tons and tons of tools and Christmas decorations.”

Read more: ‘A crime of opportunity’: Police and victim remind Calgarians not to leave vehicles running

The couple and their three children were forced to leave their home for the night due to smoke damage. They said the fire may have been caused by a faulty thermostat and they were told by firefighters they could return the next day to get some of their personal items.

“With the fire, we knew we were going to lose a lot of our stuff, a lot of our things,” McNeil said. “We were hoping, though, that some of it could be salvaged.”

However, when the couple arrived at their home on Wednesday, they realized it was much worse than first thought.

“Unfortunately, everything was tossed and we found out we were robbed and there was a break and enter to the house,” McNeil said. “They went through everything; in the master bedroom it looked like they opened every drawer, every nook and cranny to find anything they could.”

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Read more: Over 100 people forced outside of Calgary hotel after heavy smoke reported in building

The pair said it looked like their home had been completely ransacked, with the thieves taking advantage of the fact that they weren’t at home that night due to the fire.

“The kids’ Christmas presents… and empty boxes were strewn (everywhere) and our presents for each other and for other people,” Chisholm said. “They left the back door open and killed all of our house plants too.”

The couple said they have surveillance video of the thieves breaking into their home around midnight, and it appears the suspects may have taken two trips to clear out the items they wanted.

“When we realized most of our valuables had been taken, it digs deeper,” McNeil said.

A GoFundMe has been started to raise money for the family and they’re now focused on finding a place to rent in time for Christmas.

Read more: Calgary police seek rightful owners of $200K worth of stolen property

“My plea is to any landlords out there, if you have a place available that’s pet friendly with three or four rooms I’d like get in contact with you,” McNeil said. “We just want to be happy for Christmas morning.”

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The Calgary Police Service confirmed they are investigating the incident and are asking anyone with information regarding the break and enter to contact them by calling the non-emergency number at (403) 266-1234 or Crime Stoppers anonymously.

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