When Tina Sinclair first read of the house fire in Vernon’s East Hill that displaced two groups of tenants in late September, her heart sank into her stomach.
It was an event that shook many members of the community, who responded with an outpouring of support for the single mother of two that rented the main floor of the home and the two teen brothers living in the basement. But Sinclair’s response to the news was more visceral than most because she could relate to the feeling: her family’s home at Commonage Place on Mission Hill was destroyed by flames a month earlier.
“It flips your whole world in an instant,” she said. “I don’t think many people understand the real trauma that goes with this situation.”
Ahead of Fire Prevention Week, Sinclair shared the story of the day her family was displaced.
On Aug. 21, Sinclair was home alone with her youngest son when she smelled something funny in the living room. She checked the kitchen: no smoke, nothing out of the ordinary. Shortly afterwards a crackling sound recaptured her attention. She opened the door to her backyard to find her fence engulfed in flames — far more than she could take a hose to.
Grabbing her napping baby and her phone to call 911, she had no time to ensure her 22-year-old cat was safe before making her escape.
“I ran across the street to a neighbour’s step only to watch my home, within 10 to 20 minutes, totally engulfed in flames,” she said. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was fast and furious.”
It was a surreal moment, walking away from the blaze and realizing that a crowd had formed around it, staring at it transfixed.
“No one even noticed me walking down the street, shoeless, with my baby crying,” she said. “It surprised me how oblivious people were.”
After Vernon Fire Rescue Services concluded its investigation, the cause of the fire was classified as “undetermined” and is not being considered suspicious, deputy fire Chief Scott Hemstad said.
Sinclair says she and her family are doing better mentally now that some time has passed, but she can’t help but notice the way time fades collective memory.
“Although we have felt a huge amount of support in the first few days, I do believe we have been forgotten,” she said.
“People who haven’t gone through this tragedy seem to think it’s so easy to pick up and move on.”
A GoFundMe page for the Sinclairs was set up by Sophona Rose Slattery shortly after the fire. The page has been sitting at $2,715 raised towards its goal of $5,000 for about a month.
The family is grateful for every donated dollar, to the Slattery family who opened their doors in their time of need and to all the others who offered help in myriad forms.
“We would love to thank the firefighters who put their lives at risk. It takes a special kind of person to do that job,” Sinclair said. “They saved my cat, which I am grateful for, which leads to thanking the Central Animal Hospital for taking her in immediately, no questions asked.”
“I also wanted to add a special thank you to Jerry at Across Town Delivery and Marshal at Boyd Distributors for their help and support, as well as to the wonderful people from Okanagan Restoration Services for bending over backwards to accommodate us through our traumatic experience of sifting through the charred remains of our life.”
Fortunately, the sifting they did after the embers had cooled did produce a silver lining.
“Amazingly enough, almost anything sentimental was untouched. I feel that luxury, as a fire victim, was a miracle in itself.”