A Saanich family lost most of their possessions after their rental home caught fire last Sunday. Neighbours and complete strangers have rallied to their aid. Tanya Burt

Generosity flows for Saanich family devastated from house fire

Neighbours, strangers donate furniture, clothing, gifts for family that lost everything in Obed Avenue fire on Sunday

When a house on Obed Avenue caught fire Sunday night, the worst moments weren’t when the family photo albums and Christmas gifts burned to ash. Or when when smoke saturated the clothes and furniture and worldly possessions of a four person family with a cat, a dog and a rabbit. Or even when they were turned away from the first hotel they went to after the fire.

The worst moments were those few minutes when two parents weren’t sure if their teenage son was somewhere in the basement, lost behind a pall of thick tarry smoke.

Tanya Burt and husband Jason Yamkowy were watching TV at 9:30 p.m., their daughter, nine-year-old Lexi, was sleeping and son Nathan was in their downstairs rec room.

“We were watching TV upstairs and started to smell smoke. I thought my son was doing something,” Burt recalled on Thursday. “I opened the door to the basement and black smoke poured out.

“I yelled four or five times for (Nathan). I thought he was passed out. I ran outside to the exterior door to the basement, and my husband took our daughter next door.”

Neighbour Jessica Peterson, 20, heard pounding on her front door and found Yamkowy with no coat or shoes, carrying his daughter wrapped in a blanket. Her father and boyfriend ran out to help, and her mom called 9-1-1.

“I could hear the mom screaming the house was on fire and they couldn’t find their son, they couldn’t find Nate,” Peterson said. “Both windows burst open, flames were coming through the window. It was pretty scary.”

“It’s a blank feeling, helplessness. There was no fear yet, it was right before fear,” Yamkowy said. “I was trying to call 9-1-1 and I’d dial 9-1 and my phone would screw up.”

Nathan, 16, emerged from the backyard after taking their dog for a walk a few minutes before fire erupted in the basement. He could hear screaming and thought someone was being attacked.

“I’d never heard that sound in my life. It pierced my headphones and it came from inside the house,” said Nathan, a student at Vic High. “I heard my mom as she came out the door.”

It wasn’t long before flames exploded out a basement window and crawled up the side of the house. Saanich firefighters arrived moments later and killed the blaze in a minute, but the damage was done.

“It was so fast. In 10 minutes everything was gone,” Burt said. “The fire chief said flames went upstairs through the vents.”

No one was hurt and their pets were rescued, but the family was without contents insurance and lost most of their possessions due to smoke damage.  “We salvaged a My Little Pony for Lexi,” Burt remarked.

The fire started in a living area in the basement, but the cause is ruled as undetermined. Saanich fire inspector Carl Trepels said he doesn’t believe the cause is electrical and it wasn’t intentionally set. The fire caused $200,000 in structural damage to the home.

“It’s very hard to determine the cause. The fire was quite hot and it spread rapidly,” he said. “It got into the ceiling space and was able to spread that way.”

The community responds

Adding to the surreal and devastating evening, Yamkowy said he was turned away from the first hotel he tried on Gorge Road East. He walked in dishevelled, no shoes, carrying his daughter and smelling of smoke, but he had cash – and was told it was hotel policy to require a credit card for a room.

“I told them my house just burned down,” he said. No dice.

The Victoria Ramada Hotel took the family in, put them up for free for the night and staff donated wine for the parents, cookies, scarfs and gave them a cut-rate deal for an extended stay. It was the start of an outpouring of generosity from the community.

Burt said over the week, complete strangers dropped off socks and shoes at the hotel, and called her up offering furniture, clothing and cash. Her neighbour Jessica Peterson put a callout on Facebook and has raised $1,000 and counting from friends and guys from her dad’s hockey team. She is organizing a bottle drive for Saturday, Dec. 14 at 42 Obed Ave.

“We knew they were having hard times since moving here. They have no insurance. I felt so horrible I had to do something,” said Peterson, a 2011 Spectrum high school grad. “People are so generous. It’s amazing.”

After a lifetime in Yellowknife, N.T., Burt and Yamkowy and their kids moved to Victoria in November 2012 to run a coffee shop they’d bought in Bastion Square. The business went broke and closed in October.

Losing everything in a flash is overwhelming, but then so is the seemingly endless displays of generosity and kindness.

“It’s incredible. We come from Yellowknife where the population is so transient. Here it’s different,” Burt said. “We’ve been here less than a year working day and night. People have come out of the woodwork to donate, people call me out of the blue saying I have a (Christmas) tree for you, I have a table for you.

“A woman called and said she’s donating toys, clothes, music and furniture and that she’d take care of everything.

“I’ve never experienced in my life a community of people absolutely willing to reach out and make an effort, to disrupt their routines and do what they can (to help).”

“Everyone has been amazing. Our neighbours and strangers,” Yamkowy said. “Complete strangers are donating money for us. It’s overwhelming.”

The Peterson family at 42 Obed Ave. is accepting bottles and donations on Saturday, Dec. 14, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. An account has also been set up at The Bottle Depot under “Obed House Fire.” To contact Burt or Yamkowy directly, email jyamkowy@icloud.com.

Ocean 95.8 and Jack FM studios at 817 Fort St., Heirloom Linens at Broadmead plaza, Rona in Langford and Tires Unlimited on Gorge Road East are accepting donations for the family until Dec. 19.

editor@saanichnews.com

 

 

Just Posted

UPDATED: Heavy police presence in Victoria had part of Bay Street blocked off

Bay Street east of Quadra Street was blocked off on Saturday

Hundreds of foreign species still washing up on B.C. coast, eight years after tsunami

The Royal BC Museum is home to thousands of samples collected along the west coast of North America

Victoria first Canadian city to join United Nations tree planting challenge

The City of Victoria pledges to plant 5,000 trees by the end of 2020

VIDEO: Grizzly bears fight along northern B.C. highway in rare footage

Cari McGillivray posted the head-turning video, shot near Stewart, B.C., to social media

Handgun crackdown, health spending and transit plans latest campaign promises

Friday was the end of a busy week on the campaign trail

B.C. woman photographs massive ant swarm on Abbotsford driveway

She asked what the ants were doing? The answer: war

Police arrest B.C. phone scammer linked to illegal call centres in India

Person arrested in Burnaby here on a work visa, says police

Air Canada forced girl, 12, to remove hijab: civil rights group

The San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations calling for change

Man from Winnipeg who was hiking alone found dead in Banff National Park

RCMP say the man was hiking alone on Mount Temple Thursday

Resident finds loaded shotgun inside a duffle bag in Kelowna alleyway

RCMP seized a loaded 12-gauge shotgun, ammunition, clothing and other items

Graffiti, calls and Snapchat: RCMP probe string of threats targeting Kamloops schools

There have been nine different threats made to four different schools in the city

B.C. truck drivers to face higher fines for not using winter tire chains

As of Oct. 1, not using chains on the highway when required could net you a $598 ticket

Most Read