The community of Squamish is coming through for the roughly 20 residents displaced by a townhouse fire last week that destroyed the entire complex in under an hour.
Nobody was injured in the blaze, but the estimated 20 residents living in the complex when the fire broke out at about 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 13 only made it to safety with the clothes on their backs. Because the fire spread through the carport area, most of the residents lost their vehicles as well.
The RCMP have called the fire "suspicious" and were still investigating at press time.
The Squamish community has rallied to assist the displaced residents of the complex. To date the donation fund at Squamish Savings Credit Union has raised $18,000 to assist the people and to help them find housing, buy clothing and have the best Christmas possible. Donations will be accepted at the credit union until Jan. 15 at account #331918.
As well as money, the affected families have put together a Christmas wish list that can be accessed at www.squamish.ca. For example, the family with two children is asking for a two or three bedroom place to rent, toys, DVDs for a two and 12 year old, office attire, books and other items. Residents can also drop off donated items at the Project Love Centre at #38054 Second Ave. until the end of the month.
Other Squamish residents are helping in other ways. Real estate agents have worked with the victims to find affordable rental accommodation, something that is more difficult with the Olympics on the horizon. As well, some residents have opened up their homes and spare bedrooms.
"Squamish is the best place on earth, as far as I'm concerned," said Daniel Pitt of the community's support.
Pitt lost his home, his possessions and his livelihood in a matter of minutes when the fire tore through his complex. He escaped with his dog, computer and the clothes on his back. He found his jacket but left without his shoes.
"I woke up with someone pounding on my door," said Pitt. "Once I figured out what was going on I was out the door in 12 or 15 seconds and that was it. I was out the door running and kept running. By the time I turned around everything was on fire."
Pitt had recently completed extensive renovations to his place, working for months to create a home for himself using his skills as a craftsman. Among the items he lost in the fire were 10 moulds he made of rock faces. He used them to create decorative rock faces for homes and gardens.
It will take months to replace those moulds for his business, Ocean Rock Creations, and he was already anticipating that he would not have much work during the 2010 Games.
The fact that the fire may have been set deliberately is chilling for Pitt, who still wakes up at night imagining that he can hear someone pounding on his front door.
"It's scary to think that somebody could put so many lives at risk, it's beyond me. There were kids in the building and lots of people and we only just got out in time. We lost everything," he said.
"Luckily a few of the units were empty because the people were away or it might have been worse."
Pitt was taken in by his friends, John and Dawn at Red Tree Images, who have provided him with some clothes as well as shelter. He also thanked Squamish Emergency Services, realtor Chris Brown, Adam Mclaughlin and his family for support, as well as his neighbours for "saving my life and risking their own."
Now Pitt, who had insurance, is deciding whether to rent in Squamish temporarily or go to Hawaii to work over the winter with lava rock designs, and earn some money to rebuild his business.
"I still have my hands, which I'm grateful for, so everything I built I can build again," he said. "Life goes on."