BOISSEVAIN — Residents here are praying for the family of a woman who was killed in a house fire, and for the recovery of her husband — a retired minister who was badly burned in the blaze.
Dorothy Whetter, a neighbour of the couple, said phone lines are already buzzing as citizens ask each other what they can do to help.
"The community will rally for whatever is needed," Whetter said — although, for now, it’s not yet clear what the family may need beyond emotional support. "They need their time to grieve."
Neighbours and family have identified the deceased as Martha Kroeker, who was in her late 70s. Her husband, Wally Kroeker, who is about 80 years old, escaped the burning house but was taken to hospital with serious burns.
The Kroekers were inside their Peters Street home when it caught alight.
Boissevain-Morton Fire Department Chief Martin Paradis said firefighters were called to the house around 1:50 a.m. on Tuesday.
A team of 10 firefighters arrived to find the house partially on fire.
When a relative told them that Martha was still trapped inside, firefighters tried to get into the home to rescue the woman, but the flames were too fierce to allow them to enter.
"We tried our best to get in," Paradis said.
The cold was hard on equipment and the ice made it tough for firefighters to move around, but they put out the fire by around 4:30 to 5 a.m.
RCMP and firefighters then found Martha’s body inside the burned home.
No cause for the fire has been determined yet, and Mounties and the Office of the Fire Commissioner continue to investigate. However, police say there’s nothing to suggest the fire is suspicious.
A woman at a house next door to the burned home identified herself as the Kroekers’ daughter and said the family wasn’t up for comment at this time, although she did note that her father remained in hospital.
"We would appreciate prayers for his health," said the woman, who declined to give her name. "The family is holding up but, well, he’s not out of the woods yet."
Neighbours, meanwhile, remembered Martha as a friendly and outgoing woman who loved gardening and adored her many grandchildren.
"She was a really wonderful, caring lady," said Deb Merritt, who described how Martha would proudly show visitors the wall in her living room where photos of the couple’s grandchildren were displayed.
"Poor Martha, and poor Wally, too, to go through what he’s going to have to go through now," Merritt said, adding that the couple was married for at least 50 years.
Whetter described Martha as a "wonderful, wonderful person" who loved children.
"I can’t believe she’s gone… She just loved life," said Whetter, who spent time offering comfort to the Kroekers’ daughter following the fire.
Whetter understands that Wally went to his daughter’s house next door after he escaped his burning home in the belief that his wife was right behind him.
When she realized her mother wasn’t with her father, the daughter went to the burning house but couldn’t get in due to smoke. She then broke windows and called her mom’s name, but there was no response.
Whetter said that Wally was seriously burned by the fire. He was taken to hospital in Killarney, transferred to Brandon, where he would have been stabilized, and then sent to hospital in Winnipeg.
The Kroekers are well-liked, longtime Boissevain residents, Whetter said.
Wally is a retired minister who was a pastor at the Mennonite Bretheren Church in Boissevain for about 15 years.
Whetter said Wally and Martha left Boissevain for a couple of years to do mission work in the United States. When the couple returned to Boissevain, Wally worked as a part-time pastor at the Whitewater Mennonite Church.
Martha was involved in activities in the church, and Mennonite Bretheren Church senior pastor Geoff Unrau said she had a big heart.
"She was as warm as they come," Unrau said. "I think everybody’s just kind of in shock right now."
Prayer groups at three churches are praying for Wally’s recovery and in support of his family, Whetter said.
She expects the community of 1,572 will rally to help Wally and his family in any way they can.