TATAMAGOUCHE - Amanda Heitkemper smiles, lifting the lid of a small wooden box filled to the top with snapshots of years gone by.
It is singed around the edges and inside there is a light dusting of ashes on some photos. These details, and the faint lingering aroma of smoke is evidence this valued keepsake has endured an overwhelming event.
"Crazy little things like that survived," Heitkemper said of a fire on Dec. 10 that razed her family's two-storey home in Oliver, near Tatamagouche.
No one was at home when the early morning blaze began but family, friends and neighbours began arriving moments after a passerby called firefighters, pitching in to help any way they could.
"When I got here, there were people running towards us, to support us, to wrap their arms around us and say everything was going to be OK," she said.
Heitkemper, her spouse Adam Halverson, four-year-old son Cohen and 10-year-old daughter Emma, had lived at that location for about five years.
Heitkemper was at an appointment in Truro when a friend called to tell her about the fire. When she arrived home, an excavator was assisting firefighters in knocking down the last of the fire ravaged, charred frame.
"All of a sudden the firemen were digging," she said, remembering the day of the blaze that claimed the family's pets - Summer, a dog, and Boots, a cat. "They were really top notch. The looks on their faces as they brought that stuff out of my house, it meant as much to them as it did to me."
A large photo frame, a plastic tote filled with photo albums and a few other personal items were saved.
A wooden coffee table, blanket box and curio cabinet were also pulled from the flames and have since been refurbished by a family friend.
The home was insured, but she said her family will never forget the generosity shown to them by the people in the community immediately after the fire and during the weeks after.
"People were here for days afterward, sifting through (the rubble) finding things," she said.
Before the fire scene was cleared, offers of accommodations were coming from all directions. People brought food, clothes, household items, toys and Christmas decorations to help the family of four start over.
For weeks after the fire, bags of clothing, appliances of all sizes, quilts and other things were dropped off at their temporary residence in Balfron.
While the family is now able to move forward with planning to rebuild the home at the same location in the spring, Heitkemper said they will never forget the help they received from the community.
"It was quite something to lose everything you have but it is only temporary," she said. "I just honestly feel that everyone, who did something big or small, whether you just smiled at me or gave me one of the things on our list of needs, everything everyone did matters and it meant so much to us and we are so thankful."
"I have a great appreciation of where we live."