Manitoba hero who saved man from burning building in 2011 loses own home in blaze

The family of a Manitoba man who was awarded a Medal of Bravery for saving a person from a burning house nearly a decade ago lost almost everything they own in a fire last week.

Clayton Beck and his wife, Wanda Phillips-Beck, were running an errand in Selkirk Wednesday evening when they got a frantic call from their son, saying their house in the rural municipality of St. Andrews was on fire. 

The 20-year-old was home alone playing video games with his headphones on and didn’t hear the smoke alarms going off upstairs.

But when he smelled smoke, he went to investigate.

“He came out of his bedroom and he realized that the smoke was coming from inside of our house and he went toward the stairwell, and he was at that point trapped,” said Phillips-Beck.

“The wall between the stairwell and the kitchen was on fire and he saw flames. He could feel the intense heat as he came closer to the stairwell,” she said.

The Becks returned to the burned out rubble of what’s left of their St. Andrews home on Tuesday, hoping to find anything that survived the flames. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

That’s when he tried to make his way out a basement window, but it was frozen shut. 

“He made several attempts to get out of the window, and he said at one point he thought, ‘I’ll call Mom and Dad and say this is it, I’m sorry.'”

But thanks to “a surge of strength,” Phillips-Beck says he was able to push the window open and escape. That’s when he called his parents, who rushed home.

WATCH | Home destroyed after fire in St. Andrews:

The family of a Manitoba man who was awarded a medal of bravery for saving someone from a burning house nearly a decade ago, lost almost everything they own in a fire last week. 2:28

“When we were coming up the highway we saw the flames shooting up into the sky and we knew that it was quite, quite serious,” said Phillips-Beck.

“We’re pretty damn grateful that our son is alive and well and that our family, we are healthy,” she said.

“All of this can be rebuilt, but a life can never be brought back, so we’re very grateful.”

‘It all came back to me’

This isn’t Clayton Beck’s first encounter with a potentially deadly fire.

He was awarded the Medal of Bravery by Canada’s Governor General in 2014 for saving a man from a house fire in Powerview-Pine Falls in 2011.

At the time, Beck was visiting a friend in the community, about 100 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, when they saw the fire. Beck battled through smoke and flames to get inside the home and drag the man who lived there, who had fallen asleep while cooking, out of the burning building.

WATCH | Clayton Beck saves man from burning home:

Clayton Beck rescues Pine Falls man from burning home. 2:03

As he pulled up to see his own home engulfed in flames Wednesday evening, those memories came rushing back.

“Never, never, would have imagined this,” said Beck.

“I’m just happy that we had the same outcome — everybody safe.”

Beck knows the Wednesday fire may have had a different outcome.

“I believe that the Lord has wrapped his arms around us both and led us through the fire,” he said.

Lost everything

The Becks’ home was completely destroyed in the fire, along with a camper trailer and three vehicles. Lost in the fire was the Medal of Bravery and a plaque given to Beck by the Manitoba Metis Federation for his heroism.

“Those kinds of things will never be replaced, but that is all material,” said Phillips-Beck. “What we have today, our family, is worth more than anything that we have lost, way more.”

The family has insurance and plans to rebuild on the property where they have lived for 21 years.

“The house can be rebuilt, and that will take some time, but we also need some time to heal,” she said.

“It has been very traumatic, especially with how close our youngest son came to losing his life.”

A photo of the Becks’ two sons could be seen at the bottom of the pile of rubble where the family home once stood. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

The St. Andrews fire department wouldn’t comment on the fire, but Phillips-Beck says it’s believed the fire started in an electrical outlet on the outside of the home, where a vehicle was plugged in.

And while the couple says the tragedy feels compounded because it comes in the midst of a pandemic and so close to Christmas, they are grateful for what they still have.

“Nothing else is more important than being together,” said Phillips-Beck.

The Becks say they are also grateful to the community who has helped provide them with clothing and other necessities. 

An fundraiser on the website GoFundMe has been started for the family. As of Tuesday, it had already raised over $9,000.

The family encourages everyone to have a safety plan in place in case of a fire, and warn of the dangers of not being able to hear a smoke alarm with headphones on.

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