April 6, 2022 12:47 p.m.
The importance of operating smoke alarms and remaining calm during a terrifying situation is underscored following a recent fire in Sarnia.
Rina Okimaw was living on the second floor of a triplex, located at 115 Euphemia Street, when a fire broke out on March 24 in a separate unit. The fire caused approximately $150,000 in damage.
She said the fire started in a room, below which she and her four- and six-year-old daughters slept.
“We heard the alarm, when I went to exit through the front door, there was no way I would exit through the front door. The smoke had already invaded the whole building,” he said. she declared.
After closing the door, Okimaw laid a towel on the floor to keep the smoke out of their accommodation as much as possible. Her attention then turned to the fire escape, however, she said flames could be seen coming out of a separate window on the stairs.
“I was trapped. I had nowhere to go with my daughters.
Her 21-year-old son was in the unit at the time. About 40 minutes before the fire started, Okimaw said she went to her son’s unit in the triplex and asked if he could sleep in her unit because she didn’t feel not good.
“If he hadn’t been home, I never would have been able to get out of that house with the two girls and my dog,” she said.
Okimaw’s son wrapped the two girls in blankets and carried them one by one up the steep fire escape.
“He had to walk through the flames,” she said.
Despite pleas from neighbors not to go back inside, he went back for the family dog and carried the 75-pound German Shepherd to safety.
“It was so scary. They tell you to stay calm while all of this is going on, but I’m telling you if my son hadn’t been there… I was a mess,” Okimaw said.
The frightened mother said they walked out of the house with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, not even shoes or slippers to wear outside.
She revisited the residence last week but nothing was salvageable.
“I went back with my landlord and I just couldn’t believe the damage to this house. It’s destroyed.
She said most of the damage to their second-floor accommodation was caused by smoke and water.
Okimaw and her family faced similar circumstances where they had to start over with little or no belongings. They moved from Saskatoon to Sarnia and stayed in a family shelter for 11 months. They moved into the Euphemia Street triplex in August 2021.
Now they are back at the shelter.
Okimaw said he received a lot of support from Women’s Interval Home, Auberge du Bon Pasteur and St. Matthew Catholic School.
“We were getting support from the community to help us rebuild our lives and now again,” Okimaw said.
She said the family tried to stay positive in this situation, as they were grateful to have made it out alive. Okimaw said her daughters are still trying to figure out what happened.
“My six-year-old is on the spectrum, so the understanding of what’s going on – I don’t think it’s really affected my younger daughters yet, but again they’ve been distracted by the outpouring of support of the community,” Okimaw said.
The same night of the Euphemia Street fire, Sarnia Fire and Rescue was called to another fire on Alice Street.
Fire safety educator Mike Otis said there have been seven structure fires in the past three weeks, including six between March 14 and March 24.
Otis said his message to residents is to have a home escape plan and working smoke detectors in place on every floor of a residence.
“You see it time and time again, working smoke detectors make all the difference,” Otis said. “No matter how much you say it, you always have problems with it everywhere.”
Meanwhile, members of the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office are still investigating a fire on Lanark Crescent reported on Sunday.
Otis said local firefighters revisited the area on Tuesday to notify residents of the incident and ensure they had working alarms. The “After the fire” awareness campaign will continue in order to convey safety messages.
Today @SarniaFire firefighters are conducting an ‘After the Fire’ awareness campaign in Lanark. Be sure to protect yourself with working smoke and CO alarms. Landlords and tenants should know their responsibilities under the Ontario Fire Code. pic.twitter.com/wRDTZcN5XO
— Sarnia Fire Department (@SarniaFire) April 5, 2022