It was a chilly February morning when Lee Bodie woke up to the sound of the smoke detector and breaking glass.
Unfortunately, it’s an experience he knew only too well.
More than 20 years earlier, the same thing happened to him in Prince Rupert, B.C.
“I was upstairs in the bedroom. It was in the middle of the night, three or four in the morning. I couldn’t go downstairs because the only way down was on fire so I escaped through the master bedroom window onto the stoop of the door,” Bodie recounted.
“But it didn’t torch the place. They were able to contain the fire before it got too bad so I didn’t lose everything. I didn’t lose my clothing or my furniture.”
This time around Bodie was not so lucky.
Bodie, who manages the Tatchun Centre Store and is also the village’s deputy mayor, had a large, secluded place, surrounded by birch trees and situated next to the Nordenskiold River.
Now his former home is nothing but frozen mess. All that remains is a part of one wall. You can walk through what used to be the hall and into the kitchen, but the rest is a black pile of charred wood and other debris.
“I lost almost everything,” he said. “I was sleeping in the bedroom. This time I didn’t have to crawl out a window, I had glass doors, French doors in the bedroom. I had trouble getting out because of the snow.
“I was being careful not to break the door. Had I known it was going to burn down, I would have pushed harder.”
Once Bodie was safely out of the house, he ran to the back den doors to let his dogs out and call for help.
“After I called the fire department – you know your mind’s just racing – I just started grabbing stuff out of the den,” he said. “I got a brand new, rolled carpet that was going to be for the den and three pictures and then the lights went out and I thought I’m not going back in with the lights out.
“I never thought about going back in to get clothes or pictures from the bedroom. You know you’re mind just does funny things at that time. And of course, by this time, I could see through the windows, the glow of the house in the living room. Everything was just bright yellow. And smoke had already started billowing into the den.”
He slept at the store that night and opened it at 7:30 a.m. as usual. The only other employees who could have opened the store in his stead were on vacation. As it turned out, they also lived at Bodie’s house and lost everything.
Bodie is still living at the store’s two-bedroom apartment along with those employees. It was just by luck that it was vacant at the time of the fire.
But Bodie is determined his new digs will be temporary.
“I plan on rebuilding the house,” Bodie said. “Same place. I love the lot. I love the house. It’s just a beautiful park-like setting.
“It’s very private – maybe too private. When the phones went dead, I just got on the horn and started honking the horn. I guess I just wanted company that night to commiserate with.
“But I’m OK now. I had my good cry that night but at the end of the day, everybody got out and the house was just stuff. I can replace stuff.
“I did lose a lot of memories but I have the memories right here,” Bodie said, tapping his temple.
“I have a theory in life that when God closes a door, he opens a window. It’s just tough to get my big butt through that little window sometimes.
“But I like to think, if I have a lot of people pushing me from behind, it will help me get through.”
The community support has “been overwhelmingly special,” he said.
“They’ve done a fundraiser; the junior rangers did a bottle drive and collected up six, huge pick-up loads of bottles. They did several 50/50 draws at the curling bonspiel this weekend.”
Bodie is almost positive the fire started with his wood fireplace.
Last summer he had some problems with it and had it checked out. Technicians discovered the glass panels covering the fireplace were not properly sealed.
The technicians planned to return to fix them, that hadn’t happened yet.
In the meantime, Bodie tried sealing the panels himself.
Just a month before the fire, he’d seen an ember fly out of the fireplace onto the living room floor while he was watching TV.
He quickly stomped it out and put it down as a one-time occurrence. Now he’s not so sure.
Walking through the wreckage, Bodie talked about losing his collections.
He had a knack for model cars. Many of them were lost in the fire but, oddly enough, the roof collapsed over the most of it forming a make-shift shield.
Bodie is also a Christmas nut. He collects show villages – little porcelain and plastic houses that are usually lit from the inside and displayed in groups for Christmas scenes.
He still had some on display in the living room that fateful night, but most of the collection, which he inherited from his parents, were stored in a small closet. That closet still stands, virtually intact.
Most devastating for Bodie was that he had just completed a number of renovations before the fire struck.
“In fact, that day the tilers just finished the kitchen,” he said.
But some of his Christmas lights survived.
Bodie is a serious competitor in the community’s Christmas light competition every year but this past year he gave it a pass to give others a chance to win.
“But I’ll be back next year,” he said with a grin.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at