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Fort Macleod rallying to support a family who lost home to fire

A Fort Macleod family is picking up the pieces after their home and belongings were destroyed by fire.
And the community is throwing its support behind Michelle and Doug Potter through a fund set up at Chinook Financial.
“We’re blessed beyond belief to live in Fort Macleod,” Michelle Potter said Friday. “So many people have been helping us.”
The fire at 211 19th St. is believed to have started in the dryer, which was not running when the Potters left for the day, sometime after 9:15 a.m. and burned until it simply ran out of oxygen.
“We had a tiny kitten so I didn’t have any of my windows open in fear of the kitten getting out, so everything was enclosed,” Michelle said. “No one saw smoke, no one saw flames or anything.”
The metal roof and tightly-sealed windows combined to rob the fire of a source of oxygen.
The fire marshall told the Potters the fire was incredibly hot and burned for a long time, destroying everything inside the house.
“Everything in our house is black,” Michelle Potter said. “It’s just absolutely gruesome.”
The bodies of two pet cats that are thought to have died from smoke inhalation were found inside the house.
A 90-gallon fish tank was also destroyed.
The kitten the Potters had only recently taken in was still missing last week.
The Potters are thankful their two dogs — a retriever named Parker and a Golden Lab named Rory — were outside at the time of the fire.
“We’re okay, and it could have been a lot worse,” Michelle Potter said.
Michelle and Doug were at his appointment at the cancer clinic and only discovered the fire when they got home.
Doug gets chemotherapy every Monday.
“My storm door had what looked like a grey mist in it, and it was moist. Technically it was smoke but that was what it looked like,” Michell said. “When I opened that door to face the closed house door, there were black wisps of what was smoke trying to get through and it burned around the handle, which was incredibly hot.”
Michelle called 911 while Doug went to the front of the house to find a similar situation.
The Potters were appreciative of the support they got from the firefighters and RCMP who responded to the call.
“We did the walk-through and the inside is gruesome,” Michelle said. “We have lost everything. It’s just overwhelming.”
The Potters lived in Lethbridge for 18 years and then Raymond for two years.
They moved to Fort Macleod last summer after Michelle got a job at Extendicare, and bought their house in December.
“We love Fort Macleod,” Michelle said. “We intend to stay here forever.”
Fort Macleod residents have extended kindness that the Potters appreciate, including Naomi Faulkner from the Cafe Orange providing soup complete with bowls, spoons and glasses, and Stasha Donahue who started the fund at the credit union.
Crowsnest Harley Davidson in Lethbridge held a charity barbecue for the Potters on Saturday and Iris Krosse from Sinkel Floral Design collected items for the silent auction.
Jane Livingstone, whose family also lost their home to fire, called to share her experience and wisdom with the Potters.
“That’s the blessing for Fort Macleod,” Michelle said. “Everybody wraps their arms around you without hesitation.”
Last week the Potters were staying at the Holiday Inn at Lethbridge while they looked for a rental in Fort Macleod.
“We lost all these things that can be replaced, but the memories are what hold the hearts strong,” Michelle said. “Everything that made a home a home is gone, except the people who live there.”
The house is being inspected to determine whether it is a complete write-off.
The Potters have insurance but are still faced with the unknown as they try to put their lives back together.
Michelle said they are trying to come to terms with losing both their home and possessions they have collected during 26 years of married life.
The only clothes they had were the ones on their back, their photographs are gone, they have lost antiques and collectibles, and every household item was destroyed.
“We’ve just got to put one foot in front of the other and somehow carry on,” Michelle Potter said. “We’re going to do what we have to do to keep Fort Macleod our community.”
Michelle Potter can be reached at 403-929-5054 or michellepotter516@gmail.com.

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