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Daycares race to find temporary spaces after two burn in Tantallon, N.S., wildfire

The wildfires disrupted thousands of lives. Its destruction seems random. But one couple was hit twice.

“Our business and our house are both totally gone,” said Terri Kottwitz, co-owner of ForestKids Early Learning. “They’re on two separate lots of land, can’t see one from the other, but they both burnt down.”

The couple run ForestKids Early Learning, a long-time local daycare that fosters a love of nature by having kids spend a significant amount of time outdoors in forest classrooms.

Their two-storey building on Yankeetown is now gone. It was licensed to hold 82 kids.

"To lose that in our community is absolutely devastating," said Patrick Fogarty, whose one-year-old and three-year-old go to the centre.

Three of four of Giant Steps Children’s centres in the area also sit within the evacuation zone.

Co-owner Donna Buckland confirmed fire destroyed their Wyndham Drive location. It has licensing capacity to take care of 68 toddlers to preschool aged kids.

“A loss of two centres within one big community is really really, that’s a lot,” said Buckland.

As owners rush to find alternatives, parents and the community raise money to rebuild. The community has already raised more than $20,000 through a GoFundMe page to help replace any lost items.

Fogarty said his wife's business has held a fundraiser and he plans to as well.

"The ForestKids family is literally a family and we will rebuild,” he said.

Pam Aucoin, the Executive Director of Early Learning and Childcare with Nova Scotia, said the province has been in contact with all of the operators in the evacuation zone to understand their needs.

“Our goal here is to problem-solve with our providers and with families,” said Aucoin.

She said many are reopening within the evacuation zone. For those that have a prolonged closure, the province is working to establish operators as soon as possible and is helping with funding.

“So we’re covering those parent-fees so families don’t have to pay for care that they’re not going to get over this period, and certainly, we don’t want any of our centres to see any loss of revenue,” Aucoin said.

Buckland said her business may initially be unable to accomodate all of the children who need a space but she thinks eventually that will be possible.

She noted there are a lot of things that need to be taken care of before children are allowed back in the spaces, such as cleaning out freezers and making sure water supply and sprinkler systems are good.

"It's going to be longer of a process than we would like, but at the same time, it's not something we want to rush," she said.

"We're called Giant Steps but we've been taking baby steps all week."

Giant Steps is exploring moving into two different churches in the Upper Tantallon area and has arranged for licensing officers looking at the spaces.

“We’re not sure what we’re going to need and when we’re going to need it but we’ve got lots of options,” she said

ForestKids is considering moving operations to the Cornerstone Wesleyan Church. On Monday, the operators scouted out the space and met with workers who aid in the licensing process. They’re inspired to secure a new spot and keep going for the kids.

“To make sure that they are looked after and back into their surroundings,” said Kottwitz.

Despite losing their house and business, the Kottwitz’s say others are worse off.

The two own a small house they had fixed up that’s still standing and plan to move in there.

“We’re happy to have a roof, so that’s fine,” said Lutz Kottwitz.

As for the kids, the Kottwitz plan to help them replant trees soon -- their role in rebuilding their community after so much of it was burned.

For the latest Nova Scotia news, visit our dedicated provincial page. Top Stories

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