By Tristan Marks
It began just as any other Sunday would for the Janssen family of Beamsville.
Diana Janssen quickly popped out to the store around 4 p.m. while her husband, Mark, took a nap after a long day of yard work.
Their son and daughter, twins Luka and Shayne, were in their rooms changing after swimming in the backyard pool and the whole family was waiting for Mark’s father,
Simon Janssen, to arrive for his weekly visit.
That Sunday, May 23, a fire would ignite in the Janssen’s sunroom, quickly spreading heat and smoke throughout the house, located on Hwy. 8 near Thirty Road.
They would lose their home of seven years, many beloved family pets and more – but this tragedy also came with some relief.
All family members in the house at the time of the fire, Mark, Luka and Shayne, escaped with their lives and without significant injury.
Mark said his father’s arrival that day played a pivotal part in his family’s escape.
“When we first heard the fire alarms go off, my daughter and I kind of put it off since we figured my son might have set it off by burning some popcorn in the microwave or something,” Mark said.
“Then my daughter knocked on my door yelling, “there’s a fire!”.
I immediately leapt out of bed and out of my room.”
Shayne was alerted to the fire by her grandfather knocking on the door to alert the family. Simon said he spotted the fire through a window nearby the home’s main door.
“The moment I looked into that window, I noticed the flames in there,” said Simon.
Mark ran down the stairs ushering his kids out the door and quickly unlatched a dog gate blocking off the kitchen, which was adjacent to the burning sun room. This allowed one of the family dogs to escape.
He then ran to the sunroom door while his father ensured the twins were safe outside.
“It (the smoke) was black as night,” said Mark.
“I tried to open the kitchen door, but the flames just washed out.”
Mark and Simon smashed windows hoping to air out the smoke and help the other family pets to escape.
Luka thought to grab his phone on the way out and called 911 to report the emergency.
Quick thinking and adaptable action during a crisis was especially remarkable for Luka, who is autistic, said Diana.
She explained that her son normally gets fixated on tasks, but during the fire he was quick and explained the situation to the 911 dispatch clearly.
Shayne, too, acted quickly in helping both her dad and grandfather. Not only did she alert her father to the blaze, but outside she quickly ran to the outside water tap, turning it on full blast so her father could spray it onto the flames.
Despite the tragedy, the Janssen parents beamed over their children’s heroics when recounting the events.
“I’m so proud of both of them,” Diana said.
“They did exactly what we needed them to do.”
Firefighters from the Lincoln Fire Department were among the first on the scene. Mark said the firefighters told him the blaze was largely contained thanks to his actions.
Diana arrived shortly after the emergency responders.
In the end, the fire destroyed much of the sun room and spread smoke damage throughout the house. Two of Janssen’s dogs and one of their cats perished in the fire.
A later insurance inspection of the house deemed it unfit for living.
“They aren’t fixing the house,” said Diana.
“Not only did we lose our pets, but we lost our house – our home.”
Although the Janssens rented, they put a lot of work into fixing up and enhancing their home.
Over the seven years they lived there much was renovated to make their four walls and a roof into a real home.
For now, the family is staying with Diana’s mother, Linda, in Grimsby, but Mark said the future is uncertain.
“My biggest stumbling block is the future,” he said. “I can’t find another place for what I was paying here.”
The family is also struggling as they grieve over what they have lost.
Diana said she comes by the house nearly every day to say goodbye to her “girls” – the two dogs they lost.
“I’ll probably still say goodbye to them every time I pass by,” she said.
Mark said his family has been able to survive because of the network of people around them: friends, employers, co-workers and “people our lives have touched”.
“We just had people pouring out love and support to us,” he said.
“I’ve even had people I haven’t seen since high school contact me asking how they can help.”
The couple also expressed their gratitude for Lincoln’s “amazing” volunteer firefighters, who compassionately tried to save the family’s pets even as they fought the blaze.
Mark said he would love to volunteer his music skills as thanks to the department.
“The Lincoln Fire Department’s annual Christmas parties will have a DJ for free for as long as I live,” said Mark.
Even with all the loss and uncertainty facing them, the Janssens are thankful for one thing above everything else.
“I am devastated that I lost my pets and home, but I am so so thankful that I still have my family,” Diana said.
The family is currently sorting through belongings as they have some content insurance. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up for the Janssen family. To contribute visit: gofund.me/489707ee.