Early on Sunday morning, eight-year-old Grace-Ellen Beaulieu looked out of her Yellowknife apartment window to discover a car on fire. How she responded potentially saved lives.
Donna-Lynn Baskin, a neighbour, told Cabin Radio she was awoken by firefighters at 4:30am on Sunday, letting her know her car was one of three involved in a fire in the Matonabee South building’s parking lot.
“It was Grace who acted first,” said Baskin, who called her a hero. She understands the eight-year-old was the first person to notice the fire, placing a call to 9-1-1 on her mother’s phone. Baskin wrote a Facebook post praising the girl for her reaction.
“Our vehicles are done for, but these are right in front of the building,” said Baskin.
“They’re less than 10 feet from the apartment building and, had the fire gone on any longer and hit the gas tanks, the entire building would have been gone and we would have lost everything.
“It was her quick thinking that really got [the fire department] there and contained what was a crisis so it didn’t become a full-blown disaster.”
Reached on Monday, Grace said she feels proud of herself but admitted that when the flames “got to be two stories high, I was freaked out.”
“I hid in the tub,” she added.
‘I haven’t slept since’
Grace’s mom, Farren Beaulieu, said she couldn’t be prouder of her daughter for placing the call when she did, but that the experience was traumatizing for the small family and she hasn’t slept since.
“In this case, Gracie’s phone call was what really determined the obvious success to getting the fire out,” said Beaulieu. “[The fire crew] did an amazing job because it was rolling down to the street and towards the building. There were popping noises and the other two vehicles were catching, so they did a good job in getting the fire controlled.
“But [Grace] literally did save lives. If she hadn’t made the call when she did, you know, even a minute later could have been a catastrophe for a lot of people. We’re really proud of her.”
Beaulieu said she has been training Grace on what to do in emergencies her entire life, because the family has been experiencing homelessness for the past few years. Their experiences are part of the reason they consider themselves “watchers” for their neighbourhood.
“We’ve been homeless for three years now, in the system, trying to find a home,” said Beaulieu. “Our watching of the neighbourhood is deeply rooted in the sense that we’re in survival mode all the time.”
Beaulieu said Grace hopes her actions will help them secure a home and that her skills will help keep her family and community safe.
“There are several of us who are a bit older in the building, and her mother always runs to help us with our groceries if she sees us,” Baskin (who has created an online fundraiser for the Beaulieus) wrote in correspondence with Cabin Radio.
“They are both such loving and wonderful people and, clearly, Grace has been raised to have a strong sense of civic duty in order to be able to react so effectively in a crisis this morning.”
The City of Yellowknife said its fire chief was not available to discuss Grace’s actions, but issued a brief written statement in which the municipality confirmed a fire had been reported shortly before 4:30am on Sunday.
“On arrival to the parking lot of the apartment complex, a single vehicle was on fire and two other vehicles were heat damaged,” the city stated.
“The fire was quickly controlled and extinguished. The Yellowknife Fire Division were on scene for approximately one hour. There were no injuries reported. The Office of the Fire Marshal and RCMP were both notified.”
The cause of the fire is understood to remain under investigation.