The past decade, I’ve reported on a number of fires that were enough to put residents into a whirlwind of uncertainty, as they scrambled to find a place to sleep for the night, and every night thereafter.
It’s impossible not to feel empathetic for their situation.
Sitting in the bedroom of my rental home Monday – where I’ve lived since becoming a Peace Arch News reporter nearly two years ago – I picked up a faint smell of burning plastic.
Unusual, but I knew my landlord was cooking. I could hear the sound of oil sizzling in the pan.
The sizzle was followed by the sound of her screams.
A fire had started in one of the bedrooms upstairs. By the time we noticed, it was too late. Black smoke billowed under the door. The handle was hot and a cloud hung above our heads.
I could hear, but not see, as the crackling fire tore through the room.
The homeowner rushed water buckets up the stairs. I lost sight of her, though she was only an arm’s length away.
It was not a battle worth fighting. I grabbed her and we went outside to wait for the Surrey Fire Service.
As fire crews rushed the house, RCMP officers made sure nobody was left behind.
We were taken to hospital for smoke inhalation, given oxygen, X-rays and blood work, and they monitored us. For hours.
Everything checked out, but it became apparent that seven of us – including three home-stay students – were displaced. The house on 17 Avenue is now boarded up. Nobody is allowed inside, not even to get personal items.
Kudos to the RCMP for staying in touch with us throughout – not only to understand what happened, but to make sure we were looked after. I tip my hat to the paramedics; they provided much-needed light to a traumatic situation. And, of course, props to the firefighters, who were there in minutes.
Every responder showed genuine concern for our health, our home and our future.
Luckily, my landlord has family nearby. The other tenants found temporary accommodation, their long-term future uncertain.
My friends – without hesitation – offered me space. In a matter of minutes, four beds were available. Fortunately, I had planned to move to a new building on June 1. Explaining my situation to my new landlord Tuesday, I was given the keys.
Since Monday, I’ve been bombarded with offers of help from friends, colleagues and family members. Evan, Brighton, Kayla, Sabrina, Julia and Derek were there for support, and some have already delivered furniture for my new place. The long list includes work contacts and others in Ontario, Vancouver Island and Alberta.
Rachel, a tenant in my new building, heard the news. I’ve spoken to her once. When I went to unlock my new apartment Tuesday, there was a bag of essentials hanging from the door. Heartwarming, indeed.
This has made me realize that when someone is displaced – a situation that I’ve written about before and, with regret, will again – it’s not the “stuff” that makes the biggest impact. It’s the community support.
I’m lucky, and I’m home.
Aaron Hinks is a Peace Arch News reporter.
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