Just before dawn, on January 6th 1921, Alex MacDonald came downstairs to begin his morning routine. This included setting a fire in the range, so that it was hot by the time Janet MacDonald followed to cook breakfast.
The MacDonald Homestead was only a tiny building by Canadian standards. It consisted of a large main room, with a tiny ell at the back serving as a kitchen. Upstairs was the single bedchamber, in which the couple and their teenage ward, Mary Ellen, all slept.
It was small enough that, even in winter, the kitchen range could heat the entire dwelling. But the fire in that had been banked before bed. It had been cold for six hours.
Which didn't explain why there were burning cinders on top of the range.
Alex MacDonald looked up and his shocked gaze found the glowing ceiling. It looked like the wooden boards had been fully ablaze above the range, but they were down to embers now. He barely had time to puzzle over it, before a whooshing sound and sudden heat rose up behind him.
The farmer swung around. An upholstered chair, on the other side of the main room and around nine feet from the smouldering ceiling, was engulfed in an inferno.
Alex grabbed it and rushed outside to throw it into the snow.
Satisfied that the chair was extinguished, he turned back to the doorway, in time to see another glow starting. The couch, in yet another corner, was on fire. This too was dragged into the snowdrifts, and he stood breathlessly awaiting the next.
But it was over for now. The three fires had triangulated around his house, but no-one had been downstairs to set them.
The family spent the whole day trying to rationalize what had occurred. By evening, they decided to let the range fire fully go out, so that it could be taken to pieces. Alex minutely examined every component, looking for blockages or any faulty, and incendiary, part. He found nothing untoward.
However, their nerves were already shot enough. Alex ensured that there was no possible way for fires to spark. The range was left completely cold.
It wasn't enough.