Oz Oskam and son Ben comb through the wreckage.

Christmas Day arson leaves South Surrey family homeless

Neighbours are scrambling to help a South Surrey man left homeless in a Christmas Day arson.

Everything is gone.

The TV, couch, clothes, volleyball medals, video games, soccer photos, nearly all the family mementos… all of them gone with the strike of a match.

That was Oz Oskam’s realization when he arrived back at his South Surrey apartment Tuesday, after two days spent camping in Manning Park with his children – his home having been the target of Christmas Day thieves who apparently doused the home in gasoline and lit it on fire as they left.

“We had a great Christmas together in the morning, and then we left,” Oskam said Friday, as he and son Ben picked through the rubble left in the fire’s wake.

“We came back, and they’d just taken anything of value – almost all the electronics, all the Christmas presents, $400 in gift cards.

“And what they didn’t take is melted now. It’s just horrible.”

The family cat is also missing.

Hallway damageThe fire – in a first-floor apartment at Somerset Gardens I, 1821 Southmere Cres. E. – broke out just after 11:30 p.m.

According to the Surrey Fire Department, the blaze was quickly confined to contents of the apartment, causing “moderate damage.”

Contacted Friday, Surrey RCMP said they did not know anything of a potential arson investigation.

Though no one was injured, Oskam’s neighbour, Jaimie McIntyre, said “everybody (in the building) is emotionally shaken-up, especially since someone had broken in and thrown gasoline around.”

McIntyre said it is also fortunate that residents took the fire alarm seriously, even though the building is prone to false alarms.

She said she and her husband had just retired for the night when the alarm sounded, and she joined several residents to investigate in the hallways.

“I couldn’t see anything or smell anything, but then I and a girlfriend went down the small hallway to his door and there was smoke billowing out of the front door.

“My girlfriend put her hand on the door and said ‘we’re hot – everybody out now.'”

Hammering on doors roused sleepy residents, who were quickly evacuated, McIntyre said.

“It’s just something you have to do,” she said. “You put differences aside and look out for each other.”

All Oskam has now, he said, are the pants he had on, a few trinkets, a couple of pots and pans – all of which reek of gasoline – and a police file number.

“All the stuff you don’t give a crap about, nothing meaningful, that’s what’s left.”

Couch damageThe father of five – a longtime soccer and volleyball coach in the community – said he’s fallen on tough times in recent years. He’s suffered numerous injuries and had 15 surgeries in four years, with another planned for early January.

He let his home insurance lapse two years ago, he said.

“In nine years that I’ve lived here, we never had a single problem, and I needed the money for other things,” he said.

“I’m kicking myself in the ass about that now.

“I still sometimes think I’m going to wake up and this will all be a dream… I’ve got the worst luck in the world the last few years.”

More than anything, Oskam said, he was at a loss to explain what type of person would commit such a crime.

“I understand the theft. There are bad people out there who do this type of thing, so I get that. What I don’t get is the damage. I’m just really angry right now,” he said.

“We’re not living right now, we’re scrambling. That’s all we’re doing.”

Oskam and his children are currently staying in a friend’s trailer, something for which he’s extremely grateful.

Sports memories

“Thank God we have such wonderful friends,” he said.

“We have received such great support, I have five children who are doing good things, I have a three-month-old grandchild and another son who is getting married. In that sense, I’m very lucky – I’m not forgetting that.”

McIntyre has established a fund through TD Canada Trust for those wishing to help the Oskams.

Donations to the fund (9993-6479907) can be made at the TD Canada Trust Branch at 15110 North Bluff Rd. (Central Plaza).

– with files from Alex Browne

 

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