Monday , 20 September 2021

Fire did not make them ‘victims’

“I don’t like the term, ‘victim,’” exclaimed Shaina Lee, former resident of the eight unit townhouse that burned down in Elk Point on April 27.   “It was an accident. Nobody meant for this to happen. But it did, and that’s just life. You learn and you grow, and you figure out what’s important and what’s not. You never really understand that statement until something like this happens, and then you go, ‘ah ha, I really know what that means, now.’


“The town and friends and family and relatives have asked what’s needed. Strangers have said, ‘Can I hug you?’” Fellow townhouse owner, Jackie Penz, added, “I’ve had people that I don’t even know reach out and offer donations. It’s a big deal.  It really makes you appreciate small community. I’ve started a list of people helping. From food to an electrician and a plumber offering their services on their own time, donations have been pouring in. People of this community have really stepped up. It’s been really amazing.”


As Lee and Penz spoke, they were attending a fundraising barbeque at the MRC Midfield shop in Elk Point. Mark Hassan, manager of MRC, wanted displaced owners and renters of the townhouse to know they had not been forgotten, which was apparent from what Hassan described as an “overwhelming response from a very supportive community.”


Roughly 800 burgers were cooked, with 500 being delivered “out to the field.” Newalta alone ordered 100 burgers, paying double the asking price for each one. Businesses and individuals contributed items for a silent auction and for door prize draws.


Once all the donations are in and bills are paid, Hassan anticipates around $1000 each for the households.  He expects it will help “because insurance nevers pays back enough to cover all that was lost.”


Because the eight units are not considered condos, there is no organized association to make decisions. There are three different insurance companies representing seven of the units, and one uninsured unit.


Weeks after the fire the Town of Elk Point had received a number of complaints about the derelict structure that was still standing. Demolition of the townhouse is currently underway, but was delayed by complications involving the insurance issues.


According to Lee, “Things aren’t going to be in order for a long time. We’re in the dark.
We’re not hearing from our insurance companies or our adjusters. We have a lot of questions that aren’t getting answered.”


Penz was told that once the appraiser finishes the report, owners will be presented with two amounts: the amount that it would cost to rebuild, and the amount offered as a payout if owners decide to walk away.  “However,” she explained, “I believe that we all have to be on the same page. So if some of us want to rebuild and some of us want to take the payout, this could drag on for who knows how long. I don’t think anybody can really make that decision until the numbers are thrown out.”


Even without the structure, the land is still owned by the individuals, but as Lee quipped, “What can a single person do with 20’ of property?”


As for living in the row of townhouses, Lee said, “Living there, you kind of become a unit. The dynamic of it changed after the fire and it made us all closer.”


Penz agreed, “We all talked and we all need to stick together. We’ve got to stay positive.”


Lee acknowledged that although everyone is safely housed now, emotion rises occasionally. “Everything that you worked for, everything that you fought for and built around you to make it your safe place and your security, that’s all gone in the blink of an eye. It’s an up and down thing.” What she feels most loss for is, “I have nothing to give my kids. They have no baby pictures, no school pictures, no Christmas ornaments, nor my mother’s and my grandmother’s photo albums and their china and their jewellery.”  Something she found intact that she will cherish is a locket of her elder son’s hair. “What I’ve also learned through all of this that we attach ourselves to material things that really are not important.”


Jackie Heagy, whose daughters and small grandson shared one of the units, related how the few objects one daughter recovered were a homemade cedar chest which held her four-year-old’s drawings, and a teddy bear treasured since childhood.  Heagy said that when she got the call that the townhouse was on fire, she was prepared to learn that all had been lost. She was not, however, going to even consider that her family might be lost.


Despite the shock and trauma of losing homes and treasures, there is no acrimony. Instead, the former residents look to the positives – the fire began in the afternoon when people were awake and active; the wind blew away from other homes; volunteer firefighters, delayed by another fire, took charge in keeping everyone safe; gas lines were shut down immediately because an Atco worker happened to be in the area; emergency accommodation was readily available; community service clubs provided cash to those most in need; nobody suffered from burns or smoke inhalation.


And, as Hassan has demonstrated, the fire ‘survivors’ have not been forgotten.

About Sandie Bishop