Tragedy in flames
Renowned former miner dies in early-morning fire

by Chris Meyers Almey
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 05/97) - It was the longest two minutes of their lives.

They were in a burning trailer trying to rescue their neighbor, Yvon Joly, but the trio's heroic efforts were in vain.

The former diamond driller -- well-known by miners as once one of the best in his trade -- died Saturday morning.

At about 9:25 a.m., Evangelos Kirizopoulos left his upstairs apartment at 18 Ellesmere Dr. and went outside to start his vehicle.

He glanced at the trailer used as a tool shed and realized something was terribly wrong.

"The door was on fire along the top. I opened the door to try to get inside but I couldn't ... when I opened the door the whole place was on fire. That's why I didn't want to rush in until the smoke dissipated," Kirizopoulos said.

So he ran back to the apartment building and banged on Ivan Skeard's downstairs apartment door.

Kirizopoulos, 22, raced back to the trailer and called for Joly but got no response. He started to throw buckets of snow on the fire as the smoke had thinned, revealing flames licking the trailer's ceiling.

Skeard dashed outside in his T-shirt and slippers.

By then Kirizopoulos' wife, Rachael, had come downstairs after calling the fire department and leaped into action too.

"I walked in but the smoke was really thick so I got down on my hands and knees," she said. Her husband didn't know it then, but he threw a bucket of snow on her.

Rachael, also 22, spotted Joly's legs at the end of the trailer, so she yelled for help from Skeard, who was inside the trailer desperately looking for a fire extinguishers.

"I was bent right down trying to get below the smoke," Skeard said.

"Rachael was trying to turn (Joly) around. I had to pick him up and turn him around so she could grab his legs. It was pretty hot in there for a while," Skeard said.

Together they dragged Joly outside. Rachael had learned CPR years ago and began chest compressions while Skeard repeatedly breathed into Joly's mouth.

Two minutes had elapsed. It was 9:29 a.m. when firefighters arrived and found Joly's heart had stopped. Further resuscitation attempts by firemedics failed. Shortly after the ambulance rushed Joly to Stanton Regional Hospital, he was pronounced dead.

Wake for Yvon Joly planned for Friday

Instead of celebrating Yvon Joly's 54th birthday this Friday at the Gold Range Hotel, his friends will be holding a wake there.

Joly would have liked that, says manager Bettyann Gillespie.

Joly had worked there for the past decade, stocking the bar refrigerators with beer.

It was a far cry from his glory days as an ace diamond driller, but he was respected and liked, so people tried to help him.

People like Rachael Kirizopoulos, who risked her own life trying to save Joly from a fatal blaze at his trailer Saturday morning.

Like her father Richard Leblanc, who gave Joly shelter. Like her husband Evangelos, who while battling the fire cleared the way for a rescue attempt. And like Joly's buddy Ivan Skeard, who dragged him out of the burning trailer.

Skeard talked of how Joly would be gone for a day and the fire in the tool trailer where he slept would go out, so Skeard would bring him into his apartment and let him sleep on a mattress.

"He was a guy that my dad tried to help out," Rachael said. "When he needed a place to stay, dad would let him stay here.

Gillespie said Joly had three children and a grandchild living in the South, and was divorced.

"The phone has been going crazy in here," Gillespie said from the Gold Range Monday. "He had more friends than you ever knew. He was well respected (amongst miners).

"Joly and the Gold Range go hand in hand." She invited people to come to the Range on Friday and have a drink, "which he'd like." Donations in Joly's memory will go to the Yellowknife Food Bank.