Cheryl Johnson may have thought she had dodged a bullet when a grease fire in her home’s kitchen was extinguished with no more damage than some scorched curtains last Tuesday night in Nanoose Bay.
But she woke less than two hours later to find the trailer house filled with smoke, and it “went up like a matchstick,” she said.
Nanoose Volunteer Fire Department chief Doug Penny confirmed the department responded to two calls at the residence, at 2431 Armstrong Crescent. He also said three separate investigations have been made into the blaze, by NVFD, by Oceanside RCMP and by an insurance adjuster. But he was unable to address the cause of the fire that left Johnson, her husband Dave and their son Kyle, 19, in desperate need of housing in the coming days as Christmas approaches.
The home was a total loss, and a detached shop building was badly damaged.
The Nanoose Bay trailer home of Dave and Chery Johnson was left a charred ruin by a fire that broke out in the early morning hours Wednesday, Dec. 14. — J.R. Rardon photo
“We did have insurance,” Johnson said. “They’re going to replace our home, and they’re paying for us to stay in a (hotel) for now. But the money is running out and we need a place to live.”
Johnson said the bizarre night began with a grease fire that started as she tried to cook french fries in a dutch oven on her stovetop, an incident that led to the first call to the fire department at 10:56 p.m. on Dec. 13.
“I put the fries in and they came right over the top and started a fire on the burner,” she said. “I threw flour on it but couldn’t get it out. I yelled at my son, who was out in the shop, and he came running in the house. He had a fire extinguisher, and he put it out. The fire was out before the fire department even got there.”
Both Penny and Johnson said fire department responders recommend she not stay in the house that night after that fire.
“But I didn’t have anywhere to go,” she said. “This is my home, and my husband was at work.”
Johnson said she went to bed a short time after the fire department responders left, but woke later to find her home filled with smoke. A second call went out to the fire department at 1:09 a.m. on Dec. 14, Penny said.
“I grabbed the phone and went out the back door by my bedroom and told my son, ‘There’s a fire in the house,’” she said. “He came in and we couldn’t do much of anything. It was just engulfed; it was unbelievable how fast it was gone.”
Johnson said an investigator told her the second fire was sourced back to an electric coffee pot that was plugged into an outlet behind the stove. Penny could not confirm that was the cause of the fire.
Johnson said the fire department arrived “a few minutes” after her call, but that was already too late to save the home. She was able to rescue her small service dog and two of her cats, but she has been unable to locate the third cat.
Nearly all of the family’s other possessions were lost.
“We’re desperate,” said Johnson, who has received clothing from responders to a social media post made by her daughter, Bonnie, on a Nanaimo group site. “I’ve cried so many tears I’m all dried out.”
A neighbour in a nearby trailer park, who did not wish to share her name, has teamed with other residents to collect personal hygiene products and toiletries to donate to the family.
Johnson said an account to assist the family has been established through the Nanoose Bay branch of Coastal Community Credit Union, but the branch was closed when The NEWS tried to make contact and a Coastal Credit Union staffer on Saturday said that information could not be confirmed until the Nanoose branch re-opens Tuesday morning.
Johnson said the insurance funding for her family’s hotel stay will run out this week. Anyone who has a lead on a rental house or apartment that will accept a small service dog (a Maltese/chihuahua cross) is welcome to call her at 250-616-3816.