Dwayne Kelly gets choked up just talking about it.
“This town is just incredible. I’ve been balling my eyes out all day,” he said. “I know why I moved up here now.”
Kelly has been overwhelmed by the support and generous donations he’s received from friends and neighbours this week in Dawson City, Yukon. On Saturday, Kelly was left homeless when his houseboat outside of town was destroyed by fire.
He lost everything he owns, except the clothes he was wearing that night. He almost lost those, too.
“I ended up having no parka or nothing, in 43-below [zero] weather, and my sweater was almost burned off of me,” he recalled.
Kelly is not sure exactly how the fire started. He says he came home that evening after doing some grocery shopping in town, about 15 kilometres away. He says he stirred the coals in his stove then went outside for some wood.
“There was no flames or nothing, and I wasn’t really concerned,” he recalled.
He walked across the river for wood, then turned to discover a red sky. The flames, he said, were “probably about 30 feet high.”
Going for help
“Only thing I can think of is that a spark had hit the carpet. Because like I said, there was no fire — it was just coals.”
He ran back and tried to grab his coat from the inferno, because it had his money. He says that’s when his gloves and sweater caught fire. He rolled in the snow to put it out, but his hands had already been burned.
The Dawson City airport was not far away, so he walked there and used the phone to call police. By the time they got to him, he said, he was in bad shape.
“I was almost an hour and half out in the cold, and my core of my body was giving out. And I was getting kind of desperate by then,” he said.
The officers wrapped him in a blanket and whisked him to the local hospital. Afterwards, Kelly went to the Downtown Hotel, where he makes money playing ragtime piano. The hotel gave him a room to stay in until he sorts himself out.
“They’re so good to me. They treat me like a king,” he said.
‘I’m gonna start up a fundraiser for you’
The next night — New Year’s Eve — Peter Wylie went to the Westminster Hotel with his wife to celebrate the new year. That’s where they ran into Kelly and heard his story. Wylie says Kelly still seemed to be in shock.
“He smelled of, like, wood smoke and…