When Calie Haberland, her two young daughters and her boyfriend fell asleep in their living room next to the fireplace last week they didn’t think they’d be waking up to smoke and flames engulfing the room around them.
It was about 4 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 9 when Haberland woke up to find her living room, where she and her family were asleep, in flames.
“I opened my eyes and there were flames everywhere,” Haberland said. “The whole entire wall was shooting orange flames…I started screaming and got the kids outside.”
Her two daughters, who are nine years old and a year and a half, were asleep on blankets right in front of the fireplace where the chimney caught fire.
The family, along with their three dogs, cat and turtle, live in a rental property in the Cameron Heights neighbourhood on Gibson Road.
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Shortly after Haberland called the Port Alberni fire department, crews were on scene extinguishing the flames.
Randy Thoen, Port Alberni Fire Department chief fire prevention officer, said the fire was an accidental issue caused in the chimney by a “non-conforming building construction.”
He said since the house is quite old, it was built prior to the city having building and fire inspections.
“There wasn’t enough clearance between the chimney and the exterior wall of the house,” Thoen said.
Thoen said the reason why a small clearance is needed between the chimney brick and the wood of a house is so that air can move between the two.
“Essentially at the end of the day, at some point, both things degrade to the point where the heat inside the chimney can freely pass through to the wood that’s on the house and because it has that lowered ignition temperature you end up with a fire happening,” Thoen said.
Thoen urges people to undergo regular chimney and heating system maintenance and cleaning to avoid a fire, especially with the minus temperatures.
Due to the fire, Haberland and her family lost all their living-room furniture, their TV, some of the kids’ toys and all of their Christmas decorations that were hanging on their mantlepiece, including their stockings. The artificial Christmas tree that was in the room also melted and both levels of the house experienced water and smoke damage. Haberland said although the bedrooms are downstairs, and the fire happened upstairs, their beds smell so badly of smoke that they won’t be able to use them again.
“My boyfriend stayed in the house until the fire department arrived trying to put it out. He got carbon monoxide poisoning and I had smoke inhalation because I kept going back in trying to get him out and we had dogs we had to get out,” Haberland said.
The family was taken to the hospital by ambulance to be assessed. When released from the hospital they met with Emergency Social Service (ESS) workers at the Best Western Barclay Hotel.
“They got us a room, they’ve been really great,” Haberland said. “I didn’t realize how much they actually do.”
Emergency Social Services in the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District is a volunteer-based, community response program that provides short-term (generally up to 72 hours) needs for evacuees and response workers in the event of a disaster or emergency.
In addition to setting the family up with a hotel room, Haberland said the support workers have helped them with food and Walmart gift cards to purchase any necessary items.
Because Haberland and her boyfriend were renting the home, and the landlords plan to renovate and eventually sell it, she is on the hunt for new rental accommodation for her and her family. So far, she added, it’s been a struggle.
“Housing (in Port Alberni) is next to impossible to find with animals this time of year,” Haberland said.
According to a Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation rental report, two-bedroom vacancy rates for a townhouse or apartment went down to 2.6 per cent in 2016 from 3.2 per cent in 2015.
“I just want to focus on getting through the holidays,” Haberland said. “I’m feeling better now but for the first few days I was feeling lost.”
The community has shown their support to the family with clothing and toy donations, something Haberland says she is very grateful for, and a GoFundMe campaign—titled Calie, Jason & the girls—has been started that has raised $445 so far.