Escaping with barely the clothes off their back, a Cawston family is still in shock after losing everything they own in a fire.
Hugh and Debbie Stephenson woke up around midnight on Tuesday to a thick smoke filling their house. They quickly grabbed what they could and got their adult son Scott, who has special needs, out the door. By the time they looked behind them, flames had started to emerge from their home.
“My mom couldn’t really see anything but tried to grab a jacket and a purse. She was in pajamas and put on some mismatched shoes. My dad found a pair of coveralls to throw on, some mismatched shoes and a hat. My brother got out with a hoodie and sweats on,” said Georgie Crickett, daughter of the couple who lives in Penticton. “They are safe and healthy and that is good, but they are feeling a little bit lost having lived there for over 24 years.”
Hugh tried to go back in and get access to some water to try and suppress the fire but couldn’t get it to turn on. He then ran to the back of the mobile unit to find a hose but it was dark and the smoke so thick he couldn’t find it. Keremeos volunteer firefighters were forced to haul water from the nearest hydrant to supply a portable tank, and 17 firefighters fought the stubborn blaze into the daylight hours.
Firefighter D’Arcy Bridgeman said they had difficulty getting into the centre of the building, hindered as well by a number of trees in close proximity that were scorched in the fire. The family of three, that didn’t have fire insurance, watched as the home they rented for many years disappeared before their eyes.
Using social media’s power, the family’s daughter set up a Facebook page to ask friends if they had any household items to donate to her parents, could assist in finding them a place to rent when things settle down or even help foster their dog until then. She did not expect the response she got.
“I can’t believe it. People who don’t even know me or my parents heard about it and want to help. It is just amazing,” said Crickett.
She added her mom has sat in tears over the outpouring from the community dropping off household items for the family or simply a bag of clothes.
“They aren’t materialistic people, they are down to earth and appreciate having the basics in life. She felt so bad about people wanting to give to them when there are so many in need, but I reminded her they are in need right now,” said Crickett.
The fire happened on Hugh’s 60th birthday, an age where many are settling down with what they have in retirement. Hugh is now starting from scratch. Many on the family’s Facebook group — Penticton fire victims need donations please — have offered replacement items to the 22-year-old special needs man. Scott is a huge Vees fan, plays with the special needs team the UppderDeck Vees and is quite active. He lost many of his favourite items including a Sidney Crosby and Team Canada jersey.
While the family is planning on sorting through what has been donated so far to them this weekend, Crickett said there is also a trust account set up at TD Bank. Anyone wanting to donate to it can do so at any TD branch by using the account number 92856162564.