Oxford community helps family start over after fire

It seems difficult to be thankful in the wake of a house fire, loss of the month’s rent, loss of a car when the engine gives up and two heart attacks in one day for a family member, but Shawn Winkler and Amanda Clair are thankful for the support of a community that is helping them through difficult times.

Winkler, an Uber driver, and Clair, a State Tested Nurses Assistant, or STNA, came home to their K-Bell Street house at 6:30 a.m. Dec. 2 to find a fire had happened overnight and caused smoke damage to everything they own.

His son, Brayden, 12, and her daughter, Avery, 7, were not with them when they discovered the fire.

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The fire had occurred in the utility room, Winkler explained, seemingly ignited because of water leaking from a pipe where the washing machine would be set up. They did not have a washer or dryer but used the area for storage. The leaking water apparently caused an electrical fire but then the water put the fire out, but not before destroying everything there including the children’s toys and Halloween decorations.

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Smoke, however, permeated the home.

“Everything was ruined. My son’s toys. Her daughter’s toys,” Winkler said. “The only thing we got out was pictures and they smelled.”

He said they had left the house at 9:30 the evening before to go to work. He dropped her off and then ran back home quickly to get his phone charger which he needed in the car to keep his GPS operating as he drove Uber customers. Christmas lights on the porch had gone out and he threw the breaker switch back on and they came back. He left for his night of driving for Uber.

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He picked her up at work the next morning and they went to Tim Hortons because she likes their cappuccino and he likes their everything bagel.

Then, they headed home.

“We opened the door and she said, ‘I smell smoke. Call 911.’ I did not smell it and went inside. Water started pouring into the living room. It was like a hurricane surge. It dragged things in from the kitchen. I thought I heard a blazing fire,” Winkler said. “We got outside and called 911.”

The fire department arrived and turned off the gas, but Winkler said they did not have to fight a fire. It was already out.

“Those pipes put the fire out. It was like the pipe started the fire and put the fire out,” he said. “There was black soot all over the ceiling and cabinets. I was emotional. I just wanted to cry.”

It was not his first experience with a house fire. His parents’ house was destroyed by a fire in 1988 when he was 5 and the only thing saved was a Bible but he said his father got everyone out.

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Help started immediately after this fire, however. Oxford firefighters worked with the manager of the Oxford Walmart to contact the Red Cross and get the family a temporary place to stay until longer-term housing is found. His fiancé grew up on the westside of Hamilton and the city’s Walmart has promised the family $1,000 gift card to help them get what they need.

Chrissy Rolfes, of the Talawanda Student Success Center, which offers help to Talawanda district families in need, helped the family replace furniture lost in the fire.

“The main thing is the community helped out, acted very fast. It is a blessing,” Winkler said. “The Oxford community is the greatest. It all came together in a hurry.”

Unfortunately, that may not be enough for them going forward. He is asthmatic as his Clair’s daughter, and his son is diabetic. And then there is the issue of the other recent setbacks they have experienced.

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“Four days before Thanksgiving my car blew up,” he said, explaining the engine gave out, meaning it had to be junked, but he needed another to operate as an Uber driver. “My uncle had two heart attacks in one day and we were at Fort Hamilton Hospital. Someone stole my coat and it had my wallet in it with our November rent.”

The money has not been recovered, but the wallet was found in the parking lot of a restaurant.

“We’ve been through the wringer,” he said.

Winkler looks ahead, despite the recent problems. He enjoys being an Uber driver and said he has received word he has qualified for package delivery through Uber as well as being a taxi service. It’s a job he likes because he is his own boss. His fiancé is in school to become a nurse.

“We just got to start over,” he said. “That’s all we got to do.”

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