After almost 15 minutes on the phone with 911, Amber Dyck couldn’t wait any longer.
The fire at her home in Morinville, Alta., was too close, the smoke too thick. Standing in her second-floor bedroom, baby in her arms, she made her decision.
“I thought, ‘I’ve got to jump,'” she said. “So I did.”
While recovering at the University of Alberta Hospital, Dyck recounted that terrifying night while her seven-month-old son Daemon babbled away beside her. He was oblivious to the heroic efforts his mother had taken to save his life, and to the cautionary tale about fire safety their experience offers.
A flicker of light, then flames
It had been a normal day at the family’s home in the small town about 40 kilometres north of Edmonton.
Dyck’s fiancé, Colton Morrill, was out of town for his work as an electrician. She was at home with her two dogs and young son.
She awakened around 4:20 a.m. MT and saw a flicker of light coming from her en-suite bathroom. Dyck initially thought it was a street light.
But when Dyck went to the top of the stairs, she saw brighter light and smoke coming through the front door.
She grabbed Daemon from his room and called 911. By then, she could see flames downstairs.
Dyck followed instructions to shut her door and stay low. Trapped in the back bedroom, she didn’t know it at the time, but flames had begun to engulf the entire house.
“Every breath that I took, it just felt like I was breathing in fire.”
Her dogs had passed out. Dyck opened her bedroom window and held Daemon outside, so he could get fresh air. That’s when she heard someone yell, “‘Jump.'”
Her neighbour, Jeff Marples, had awakened at 4 a.m. to get ready for his job as a paramedic. He was putting on his uniform when he heard a scream from his backyard.
“When I opened the blinds, I saw a house in flames,” he said in an interview. “And I could make out a figure from the top left window. And it was Amber.”
Marples saw flames raging across the roof and smoke billowing from Dyck’s window. He didn’t realize she was holding her baby.
“From my experiences as a paramedic and being on fire scenes, I knew that she was in a bad situation. And at that point, I said, ‘You have to jump. There’s no other option here.'”
From the hospital, Dyck demonstrated how she held the baby close to her chest and let herself fall about six metres from the window.
“My intent was to land on my back so I could cushion his fall,” she said. “And that’s what I did.”
She thinks she hit the barbecue before she crashed onto the deck.
“I immediately knew I had done damage to something,” she said. “I could move my toes and my feet, so I knew I wasn’t paralyzed. But I was trying to scooch back, because the heat and the flames were starting to come to the back of the house.”
Marples pulled her off the deck. The two had never spoken before that night.
He and another neighbour carried Dyck to safety.
A long road of recovery
A week after the fire, Dyck is recovering from a five-hour surgery. Her first lumbar vertebra was broken, and surgeons have fused a series of other veterbrae on either side of it to stabilize her back.
Dyck remembers seeing her son in the ambulance.
“He just looked at me and he had soot on his face. I asked what [the paramedics] thought and they said, ‘As far as we can tell, he doesn’t even have a scratch.'”
Insurance investigators say the fire was caused by a cigarette butt left smouldering in a planter pot, likely for more than 10 hours. Investigators haven’t pinpointed exactly what cigarette sparked the blaze.
Dyck said their story is a warning.
“Be extremely cautious with stuff like that. Do not put it in a flower pot ever, ever. And make sure you have a plan, because you think you have a plan until you’re in that situation. Have a few fire plans and practise them.”
The house was engulfed in flames by the time fire crews arrived, said Morinville fire Chief Brad Boddez. Firefighters in the town work on call, meaning response times can take longer, especially late at night.
“At 4:30 in the morning when you’re awoken from your sleep, sometimes the response times are delayed a bit,” Boddez said. “We all respond from our homes. We have to get dressed, get in our cars, run down to the hall, then get in the trucks and go.”
Boddez noted that 25 firefighters showed up to fight the blaze, which speaks to the strength of the force in Morinville, home to about 10,000 residents. The small town is undertaking a fire master plan to assess whether the growing community will one day need more staff hired on a full- or part-time basis.
Dyck was released from hospital less than 10 days after the fire. She and Morrill plan to get married in Mexico this fall, with Daemon in their arms.