Adventurer injured in house fire

CHRIS KITCHING, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:53 AM ET

WINNIPEG - A Winnipeg adventurer and author widely known for journeys to the Amazon and Arctic is in hospital after a fire broke out in his East Kildonan home Wednesday morning.

Don Starkell, 77, suffered burns and smoke inhalation and was in critical but stable condition at Health Sciences Centre as of Wednesday afternoon.

Neighbours say Starkell tried to put out the blaze and may have been held back by two men -- a neighbour and passerby, who came to his aid -- to prevent him from going back in and suffering further injury before firefighters arrived at the bungalow, in the 500 block of Hazel Dell Avenue, shortly after 9 a.m.

Investigators didn't reveal the fire's cause but neighbours wondered if it had something to do with a wood stove in Starkell's living room.

Witness Janine Lozie said she looked out her window and saw what appeared to be a pile of logs ablaze on the front steps.

Moments later, two men appeared, used a shovel to move the logs and snow to extinguish them, and hollered to someone inside as smoke billowed out the open front door, she said.

Longtime friends Lyle and Olivia Coontz, who were returning home as the drama unfolded, said Starkell was inside and told the men he was trying to put out the blaze.

"From what we were told, they had to hold him to stop him from going back in," Lyle Coontz said. "We hope he's all right."

Winnipeg Fire Department district chief Gary Pinette said firefighters encountered Starkell in the front yard before they quickly extinguished the fire.

That task was made difficult by the amount of debris or objects accumulated within, Pinette said.

Lozie said she watched firefighters, holding Starkell by his arms, drag him across the yard to a spot where he was put on a stretcher.

Pinette said the fire was confined to the living room but the entire house sustained smoke damage.

Starkell, who lives alone and is retired, is a legend for his exploits travelling by canoe and kayak.

Fame and a Guinness World Record followed after he and his son Dana completed a remarkable 19,500-km journey by canoe to the Amazon River in Brazil from Winnipeg in the 1980s.

In a test of endurance, the pair was arrested and shot at, ate insects and faced starvation, and encountered hurricanes and pirates.

Starkell, a Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame inductee, also traced most of the Northwest Passage in the Arctic by kayak in the 1990s but had to be rescued. He lost fingertips and toes to frostbite.

He wrote books about both experiences.

Neighbours said he still paddles during warmer months.

chris.kitching@sunmedia.ca


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