The victim of a house fire believes the man who started it was just trying to get warm.
Bonnie Thomas, her son Darcy Andrew and their two dogs escaped from their home at the west end of Salmon Arm about 3 a.m. Jan. 8. The house and most of its contents were destroyed by fire, smoke and water damage. They have been staying in a hotel, with help from Emergency Services and the Red Cross, until they figure out other arrangements.
Thomas said she’s also been working with ICBC, as the fire, which started in the carport, completely destroyed her vehicle.
“I kind of worry about the guy that started the fire,” she said. “I mean it wasn’t a very nice thing for him to do but you don’t want to wish anything bad upon anybody.”
A day later, Jan. 12, Thomas said she had learned the man was still in hospital in intensive care, with his mother there to support him. She was told he has a history with addictions and trying to overcome them.
“My prayers go to the mother of the guy that did it and her family. I definitely know firsthand what it’s like to go through,” Thomas said, referring to her son Jason Andrew who died in 2018 at age 23. “I feel for her, I really do. I know how helpless you feel.”
Thomas said a large box of old VHS videos was in the carport on the way to be donated.
“I think he was trying to keep warm… That’s where he started the fire.”
The fire inspector told her the videotapes are very flammable. When her son first saw the blaze, it was in the box and then starting up the wall of the carport.
“He ran back in the house and he hollered at me, ‘Mom, mom, there’s a fire, get out of the house.’”
Thomas thinks it only took her a couple of minutes to get out.
“Already the front part of my car was in flames. That’s how fast it was burning. I was really shocked because I was thinking, ‘oh you know what, I’m going to throw snow on it to put it out.’”
But she could already hear pinging sounds coming out of the car and she didn’t think it was safe.
“We just kind of moved down onto Second Nations Road, because I didn’t know if the car was going to explode.”
Thomas said her car door was open when it was on fire. She was wondering if, and actually hoping, the man had taken some personal effects from the car. The police said no.
“I had a beautiful eagle pouch hanging from my mirror and it had a memorial card in there of Jay, my son. But I guess it was still in the car. He didn’t have anything on him when they found him.”
After escaping the house, Thomas and her son phoned the fire department. She said she was amazed how quickly they arrived. RCMP officers also responded and she said both they and the firefighters were very supportive.
“The fire chief would come over and he would talk to me every time he had a little bit of an update, he would keep me informed, which really brought the stress level down a lot. So I was really appreciative of how they handled everything.”
Search and rescue was brought in to help locate the man who was seen running away. Police said he was found two kilometres from the house up the mountain in the snow, unconscious. A police officer performed CPR on him for an hour. Thomas estimates he was brought back to an ambulance on Second Nations Road about 8:30 a.m.
Thomas said the man was spotted on the road by other residents prior to the fire, walking up and down. A propane cylinder in her brother’s carport was later found partway down his driveway and a gas can belonging to her nephew, who lives at the end of the road, was missing. It was found partway up the trail that goes up the mountain.
Asked about charges, police said Jan. 13 the investigation continues.
Going to see her house the day after the fire was heartbreaking for her and her son, Thomas said.
All the furniture and small appliances were ruined and her son lost all his electronics. However, there was one bright spot.
They have a cabinet where the urn with her son Jay’s ashes were kept and, on the wall, his hockey and family photos as well as a jersey were hung. The cabinet and the urn came through the fire unscathed and, somehow, a piece of plastic from the ceiling came down over the jersey and photos so they weren’t harmed.
She wondered if, despite all the urgency, firefighters make quick assessments to save what they can.
“I’ve seen it firsthand – they do really good work,” she said.
Discovering the treasures were unharmed was a surprise and a relief for both her and her son.
“We were really happy.”
Despite the destruction, a container of old photos ended up with a piece of insulation over it, so they were also saved.
“So somebody was really watching out for us for sure,” she smiled.
Thomas is also full of gratitude for all the support they’ve received from the community.
“It’s unbelievable to me. It sure helps when you’re feeling at a loss, you get an email or you get a text message from people. It kind of brings your spirits back up again.
“Salmon Arm community is amazing anyway. I was telling my sister, it brings me back to when my son passed away. Of course to today I still feel the loss terribly, but the support I got back then really helped me.
“I can’t say thank you enough for everybody,” she said, her voice wavering with emotion. “It makes me happy to think of all that support.”
A GoFundMe page, Help support Bonnie to rebuild her home, has been set up.