A Manitoba family is picking up the pieces after losing everything in a house fire, but thanks to the quick thinking of their 12-year-old daughter, all of them are alive.

Emily Neufeld was at their home in La Broquerie, about 55 kilometers southeast of Winnipeg, with her two younger brothers on the afternoon of March 2. They were waiting for their parents to get home from work.

The Grade 7 student had just gotten off the phone with her mom, who was at work in Winnipeg, and was getting ready to start her chores when she noticed a smell coming from the laundry room in the basement of the house and went to check it out.

“I saw my entire bathroom was like already engaged in fire,” she told CBC News. “At that point I was super panicked and scared.”

Emily said she immediately ran upstairs to get her two brothers — eight-year-old Jamie and four-year-old Levi — and their pets, and get them all out of the house as fast as they could.

“I was just bawling my eyes out, super scared,” she said.

While shaking, she called her mom at work and then called 911.

Natalie Neufeld said it was a call that shook her to her core.

“That was the worst time of my life. It was horrible,” the mother of three said. “And I was an hour away and I didn’t know what to do.”

Fire spread quickly

Natalie called a friend to help get the kids out of the cold, and they made sure the neighbors in the other unit of their duplex also got out safely.

Natalie’s husband Andreas was on his way home when his wife called to let him know what was happening.

“My heart dropped. It was a very, very tough,” he said. “I wanted to be there to help them and I couldn’t.”

The children, a dog and one cat made it out of the house safely. Unfortunately, Emily’s other cats didn’t survive.

The family said they were told the fire started with a plug-in wax warmer which had a towel next to it in the downstairs bathroom. The towel ignited and the fire quickly took over.

A white desk in a room covered in soot and destroyed by a fire.
The charred remains of what is left after a fire ripped through the Neufelds’ La Broquerie, Man., home. (Submitted by Andreas Neufeld)

Andreas said the fire spread so fast that all of the exits from the basement were blocked within minutes.

“The fire was so hot that it melted the glass above the mirror in the washroom … I mean like, off the light fixture,” Andreas said.

“That takes some serious heat to melt.”

‘Lives matter more than things’

Emily credits a babysitting course she took last June by helping her get everyone out safely.

She said the fire safety portion taught her not to worry about any of the material objects in the house, but rather to get everyone out as quickly as possible.

“Not to worry about your stuff, just to worry about lives. Because lives matter more than things. Because things can be replaced,” he said.

Girl sits on the ground, looking at a notebook.  Person's legs and dog are on the couch behind him.
Emily Neufeld, 12, credits a babysitting course for giving her the skills to react and save herself, her brothers, dog and one of her cats during the house fire. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

She said she is also happy her brothers listened to her and followed her lead so they could get out as quickly as possible.

It’s a course her parents are thankful she took.

“That literally saved their lives,” Natalie said.

But the 33-year-old still tears up thinking about what could have happened.

“Just thinking what if Emily would have acted differently?” she said.

“My heart hurts because I wasn’t there and you know, knowing what Emily had to go through by herself and she still has to go through.”

A woman's hand holding a burnt and warped frame that has a babysitting certificate inside of it.
A burnt and warped frame holding Emily’s Red Cross babysitting course certificate. (Submitted by Andreas Neufeld)

The family said they are also thankful the fire didn’t start in the middle of the night because all three of the kids’ bedrooms were in the basement.

Everything destroyed

The family went back to the house days later and said it was difficult to walk inside.

Everything is covered in soot, the walls are black, and their toys and prized possessions are either melted or destroyed.

“Horrific,” Andreas said. “We could see the storage boxes that had our memories and stuff in it completely melted…everything was basically destroyed.”

He said they have already dropped off four tonnes of garbage at the dump.

The four-bedroom duplex was a rental property, and while they do have insurance, it’s still going to be a long road ahead.

For now, they are staying with their family in La Broquerie, but with 11 people and six pets in the house, it’s getting crowded. The three kids are all sharing one small room.

But the family is overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from their community who stepped up with clothes for all of them within 24 hours.

“We came out of that house with nothing … like we didn’t even have our own underwear to wear,” Natalie said. “So that same evening, I think we even had a truckload of stuff coming already of clothing and, you know, toiletries and stuff like that, which was incredible.”

A family friend also set up a GoFundMe to help the family get back on its feet until they are able to get their insurance sorted.

How this 12 year old girl saved her brothers and pets from a house fire in southeastern Manitoba

Emily Neufeld was at their home in La Broquerie, about 55 kilometers southeast of Winnipeg, with her two younger brothers on the afternoon of March 2, when she noticed a smell coming from the laundry room and found a fire.

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