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Fatal fire in North Canaan one day after Storm Isaias

NORTH CANAAN — The cause of the fatal fire on Wednesday, Aug. 5, has still not been determined. There are unconfirmed rumors, however, that the cause could have been electrical cords attached to a generator.

Regina “Jeannie” Schreiber, 54, was declared dead after she was taken from her home by three Canaan Fire Company volunteers. Fire Chief Brian Allyn said it is believed she died of smoke inhalation, not from burns from the blaze, which completely destroyed the single-story home on Old Turnpike Road where she lived  with her 71-year-old mother and 82-year-old stepfather. 

According to a report in the Waterbury Republican American newspaper, Schreiber had cerebral palsy and was unable to exit the house herself. Her stepfather tried to save her, Allyn said, but he was not able to fight his way through the heat and smoke.

Allyn said he phoned the fire in to 911 himself on Wednesday morning at around 9:45 a.m. He and other fire company volunteers were driving around town in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaias to see which roads were passable. He saw “a plume of smoke over Allyndale Road near Segalla Sand and Gravel.”

Despite the obstacles of fallen tree branches and downed wires on many major and minor roads, fire volunteers arrived quickly at the scene from not only North Canaan but also Falls Village, Cornwall, Sharon, Colebrook and Lakeville in Connecticut and Sheffield, New Marlborough and Great Barrington in Massachusetts. Volunteers from nearby Norfolk were able to make it to the site even though all major roads into the town were impassable. Allyn and other fire volunteers were able to direct them along back roads that they knew were open due to their early-morning road reconnaissance.

Fire companies in Winchester, Conn., and Millerton, N.Y., were on standby at their stations.

Water was loaded into the tanker trucks from a nearby pond at Clayton Corners, Allyn said. 

When firefighters arrived, Allyn said, there was already heavy smoke coming out of the house and Schreiber’s bedroom. They first worked to get her out of the house and then began to try and put out the fire. 

There was nothing left of the house in the end, which Allyn said had “a lot of fire load inside, a lot of collectibles” and other small items.

Fire fatalities are rare in the Northwest Corner, and when they occur they are traumatic for the emergency workers on the scene. 

Allyn said that he and the two other firefighters who carried Schreiber from the building have been in constant contact with each other and with North Canaan resident Brian Ohler, who is a state-certified fire department chaplain. Ohler and Allyn will keep track of how the fire volunteers are coping; if necessary, outside experts will be called in to help them process the grief and trauma.

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