Family starting over after fire

By Susan Gamble, Brantford Expositor

Area tribute artists are banding together to help one of their own after a night-time fire ravaged the home of the Empey family in Princeton earlier this month.

Terry and Paula Empey and their adult daughter Jessica were asleep when a chimney fire got into the walls of their house and ended up destroying most of their belongings. Son Josh wasn't home that night.

"We lost about 90 per cent of the house," says Paula Empey, "and the rooms that weren't burned have black walls and water damage."

Terry Empey is a George Strait tribute artist who often performs with other tribute artists in the area.

Led by Brantford's Geph Mitchell, an Elvis tribute artist, the entertainers are hosting a Valentine-themed fundraiser to show a little love to the Empeys.

"Terry's been doing shows with me for several years and is one of those people who would do anything for you," says Mitchell. "He always helps when I do tribute shows."

The family had been renting the Princeton home for three years but had recently changed insurance companies. They agreed to move renter's insurance to the new company and say they had the unfinished paperwork for the insurance on a desk in the house when the fire occurred.

And, says Empey, to make matters even worse, her husband's grandfather, who was ailing, died just a few hours before the fire.

But the family is safe and, although two cockatiels were lost in the fire, the other Empey family pets - a chocolate lab, a chihuahua, and a mother cat and two kittens, were all rescued.

"We couldn't find one of the kittens but at the end of the day I felt like I had to go back to the house to try and find laundry soap and when I walked through what had been the living room to the laundry room, I heard a small meowing."

Empey found the kitten with ice on it's paws and tail but, she said, within an hour in the warmth of their temporary quarters, it was back to normal.

"We've been so overwhelmed with how people want to help us out," she said. Nearby neighbours "adopted" the family while they were still outside the burning house in their winter coats and pyjamas and offered the three Empeys shelter in a basement apartment.

"People have offered to give us things but our problem is we have no storage space," says Empey. "The landlord is rebuilding the house so any money that's raised will go toward getting some new furniture to replace what's lost. We saved the kitchen table, which is heavy wood, but we're going to have to start fresh, like we're in our teens again."

The fundraiser for the couple is set for Feb. 11, starting at 7 p.m. at the Army Navy Airforce Club, 645 Colborne St. Music begins at 8 p.m. and Mitchell is promising tribute artists doing numbers from Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline, Connie Francis and himself, as Elvis Presley.

"I've been getting calls from others who want to perform so it will be like an open mike for tribute artists, plus we'll have raffles, food and a 50/50 draw.

Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the door or by calling 519-750-5779 or 519-759-3503.

There will also be a fundraising dance held in Woodstock on Feb. 25 to support the family. That event is at the Unifor Hall starting at 8 p.m. and tickets are also $10.