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Six months of work gone in minutes

Century farmhouse nearly move-in ready when Tuesday evening blaze levelled it

By Mike Williscraft

It was the first evening in several months Aren Vandervelde had not been working on his future Sixteen Road home and one he will always remember – for all the wrong reasons.

Last Tuesday, March 6, the 1896 farmhouse which Vendervelde and his girlfriend, Katelyn Hughes, had been renovating burned to the ground in a matter of minutes.

“It was the first night with no snow on the ground. It was also the first night I had not left a light on,” said Vandervelde, in noting just a couple of points which are etched in his memory.

The property is owned by Ann and Ed Engel, who live across the street. The Engels and the young couple had been connected through common friends. Nobody had been living in the farmhouse for some time when Vandervelde and Hughes took on the massive job of breathing life back into the structure.

“It was already gutted when we got started, so all the dirty work was done,” said Hughes.

“We got to do the more fun stuff, building it up and design work.”

The fun was gone when Vandervelde got a call about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night.

“I got here in about a half hour and the house was already sitting in the basement. This was a solid, two-storey. It is odd it would go down that quick,” said Vandervelde.

With most of the renovation completed, the couple was planning to move into the home this spring and be married the following spring.

“We were looking for a place to fix up, a classic,” said Vandervelde, adding, “We had replaced the floors, rewired the whole house and had it ESA approved. I had some work to do on the washroom.”

He noted all his materials, tools and equipment were destroyed, some of it which was located on a trailer behind the building.

When a new day dawned the couple had a chance to look around the yard, that is when some oddities started to materialize.

“We have no idea how this fire could have started unless it was deliberately set,” said Vandervelde.

“There was nothing flammable in the area where neighbours said they thought the fire started and the power was turned off at the fuse box. The neighbours also said it looked like the fire was still low to the ground and outside the house.”

Aside from what the neighbours saw, Vandervelde said there were some physical oddities which also showed up in the light of day.

A aerosol can of “quick start”, which had been stored under stairs inside the home was laying on the ground about 15 feet from the back of the building.

As well, a six-foot long 2×4 with a charred tip laid another 20 feet beyond that, also in the backyard.

“That is the only piece of wood left. How did it get so far from the house with one end burned?” asked Vandervelde, somehow hoping for an answer.

“The can was inside. How did it get on the ground? These things are very suspicious. There is no way this could have started other than with accellerant.”

It was noted that the initial call came into emergency services from a woman who said she was driving by. A white can was spotted parked on the road in front of the property around the time of when the fire started.

“If those people could please get in touch with authorities, there are some important questions we need answered about what they might have seen,” said Engel.

In an email last week, Niagara Regional Police St. Sgt. Tim Carter of 8 District said, “That fire was deemed to be not suspicious.”

This information left Vendervelde et al dumbfounded as they had heard contradicting comments from the investigating officer and West Lincoln’s Fire Chief, Dennis Fisher.

“They both said that night it looked suspicious, so I’m not sure how that could be,” said Vandervelde, with others nodding in agreement.

Chief Fisher did not respond to emails or phone calls by press time

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