Lisa Hollinshead does not know what jolted her awake early Thursday morning – but something did – and when the mother of two walked out of her bedroom and into the main area of her house, she realized her bathroom was on fire.
Hollinshead believes it was her guardian angels looking after her and her two children, 12 and 15, after a fire tore through their family home in the Whonnock area in the early hours of April 7, sending them running with only the clothes on their backs.
It was just after 1:30 a.m. when she exited her bedroom. At first she noticed a little bit of smoke, but thought that it was her eyes trying to focus after waking up.
However, when she finally came around she saw that her bathroom was full of flames.
“I just remember yelling for my kids – Fire! We’ve got to go now! Grab the cats!,” remembered Hollinshead.
Her son, 12, tried struggling with both of their cats, and managed to save one of them. Her daughter, 15, also escaped the fire.
Hollinshead tried throwing jugs of water she had stored outside, on the flames by the door, but to no avail.
Fire chief Michael Van Dop confirmed that they were called at about 1:45 a.m. to the 27800 block of 104 Avenue, where they were met by heavy smoke and flames coming from the house. The house, he said, was already about 50 per cent involved.
“It was a very well developed fire upon our arrival,” he said.
Firefighters were on scene for about eight hours putting out the fire and wrapping up the investigation.
“It is not considered suspicious. It appears, based on our investigation, accidental in nature,” said Van Dop.
There were fire alarms in the residence, reported Van Dop, however, he said they were unsure whether they were working or not.
Hollinshead and her children suffered some minor smoke inhalation and were checked out by paramedics – however they lost everything. There was no insurance on the house.
“Unfortunately my aunt let the place go,” explained Hollinshead. The insurance company had asked her aunt to do some minor repairs that she refused to do and the policy lapsed.
“We were in the process of trying to renovate and get things back to where we could get house insurance for the house. We’ve put a lot of money and time into repairing it,” added Hollinshead.
Not only that, the house had been in the family since the 1960’s when her grandparents purchased it after they moved to Maple Ridge from Manitoba.
“I had my first birthday on the front lawn of that house. It’s been in our family for over 60 years so it is a very tragic loss. There’s so many sentimental things that went with it,” said Hollinshead.
When Hollinshead’s mother, Laverne, got the call from her daughter that the house was on fire, the Ruskin resident said she just jumped in her van and took off. And she said, as she approached the house, all she could see was flames shooting up.
While visiting what remained of the house on Friday, April 8, the two recounted their shared memories of the place they once called home.
Laverne remembered how a post once stood where the back porch was because it was holding up the roof. She also remembered the day her mother fell through the floor and hit a wasps nest.
“And she just got stung, all over her face,” she said.
“A lot of memories there,” Laverne reminisced, adding that four generations had lived, at one time or another, under this roof.
A rhododendron that the family bought for Laverne’s parents’ 25th wedding anniversary, was still standing, right next to the house, unscathed.
Contents that were once housed in the attic – that the family were planning to go through this year – now litter the entire house.
The Whonnock community pulled together as soon as news of the fire started to spread with neighbours feverishly collecting donations for the family later that day.
Hollinshead, who is now staying with her children at her mother’s place in Ruskin, said the words ‘thank you’ are not enough.
She has been receiving a steady stream of donations including clothes, shoes, toiletries, food, gift cards, cash, and small household items.
“I really do appreciate it. My children have a pair of shoes now and have have a change of clothes and a toothbrush to brush their teeth. It’s all minor things that you don’t even think about,” she said through tears.
The family is not allowed back in the house to see if there is anything they can salvage because the building is structurally unsafe.
“I wish they had let it burn to the ground,” said Laverne while looking at the charred remains. “It’s easier to see a small rubble than what I am looking at now.”
“The shell is there, but there’s nothing else. Everything’s gone,” added her daughter.
Laverne noted her father’s ashes were in a box still inside the house. She had just purchased a gaudy urn with a green top from Value Village that she was going to put the ashes into and seal up.
Now, said Laverne, letting out a sad chuckle, he’s been cremated twice.
A Gofundme has been set up by Hollinshead’s adult daughter, Jillian, who is trying to raise $5,000 to help out her family.
As of Friday afternoon, $210 of their goal had been reached.
To donate go to gofundme.com and search Jillian Hollinshead.
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