Canada

‘Absolute miracle’: 90-year-old blind N.B. woman narrowly escapes house fire

A western New Brunswick woman says it’s an “absolute miracle” that her 90-year-old mother narrowly escaped a recent house fire.

Eva Skaarup, who’s lived in the home in River de Chute, N.B., for 73 years and raised her 10 children there, is legally blind and hard of hearing.

On Sunday, Skaarup called her son, who lives next door, to tell him she thought the home was on fire. He wasn’t home at the time, but his wife Darlene was.

So it was a terrifying moment for Eva’s daughter-in-law knowing a family member was still inside a burning house.

Eva Skaarup, 90, is legally blind and hard of hearing. Despite the odds, she managed to escape her burning home Sunday.
Eva Skaarup, 90, is legally blind and hard of hearing. Despite the odds, she managed to escape her burning home Sunday. Callum Smith / Global News

“Flames were shooting out the windows and through the roof, and I immediately called 9-1-1,” Darlene Skaarup says.

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Despite her concern, 9-1-1 dispatchers told her not to enter the burning building.

“I was banging and screaming on the windows and on the door,” she tells Global News. “And then I heard a noise out front.”

She followed her ears to the front of the century-old home, and much to her surprise, her 90-year-old mother-in-law was standing there, cane in-hand.

“I have no idea how she made it out of that house,” Darlene says.

Read more: Canadian Red Cross assisting 10 after house fire in Plaster Rock, N.B.

Eva lives with her daughter, Jenny, who wasn’t home at the time.

“I picked up my cane and I walked to the kitchen door and I opened it up,” Eva says. “She was all a fire out there and I thought ‘well I’ve got to get out of here.'”

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“You don’t have time to think about too much stuff when you open one door and the whole thing is fire,” an emotional Eva says.

Unable to see, she managed to get through the smoke and flames in the home she’s lived in for more than seven decades — with countless memories to guide her.

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“I knew exactly where to go,” she says.

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“I’m amazed that she had her wits about her to still get out that door, and knew the direction to go,” her daughter Ruth Sawler tells Global News. “It’s an absolute miracle that she got out of there without a mark.”

“I could never move too fast,” admits Eva. “But this time, I got down the ramp… There was nothing.”

Tragically, her pet dog and cat didn’t make it out. And a lifetime of memories were lost.

“The house was full — and the walls were filled — with pictures,” she says.

She’s grateful a few photos were recovered, and although she might not be able to see them well, they’re as precious as the time she spent raising her kids in the home.

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She’s a hero, says her family. Blind but determined — and humble to boot.

“It sure was a miracle,” Eva acknowledges. “Because I think nothing but the Lord helped me through that.”

Read more: Two displaced after bungalow fire in Geary, N.B.

Eighteen volunteer firefighters from Perth-Andover, Centreville and Florenceville-Bristol responded to the emergency call.

Perth-Andover Fire Chief Philip Walker says “the structure was fully involved” when they arrived on scene and it was “pretty well history.”

He says the wind was working against them and they had to prevent the fire from spreading to nearby trees.

As for Skaarup’s escape, he says “I’m not quite sure how she managed it.”

“The distance to travel, the house fully involved, it would’ve been very unlikely that we would’ve been able to rescue her.”

He says the first crew of volunteer firefighters arrived on scene 21 minutes from the initial call, which came in at 2:28 p.m. Sunday.

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Walker says that time is “probably very good” considering the distance they had to travel, “but still, the house was totally engulfed. When we arrived there, you could pretty much see through the structure, it was burning that bad.”

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