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A family struggles to rebuild after narrow escape from fire

Four generations of a family are homeless and separated after fire ravaged their house on the Pauquachin First Nation in North Saanich.

Four generations of a family are homeless and separated after fire ravaged their house on the Pauquachin First Nation in North Saanich.

Homeowners Russell and Nora Henry, who are in their 70s, were among the 16 people who fled the house at 8709 West Saanich Rd. when fire broke out at 2:48 a.m. on Feb. 6.

Three of their children, three grandchildren, four great-grandchildren between the ages of three and eight, and four other family members were roused as flames tore through the second-storey kitchen.

Nora Henry said she heard the screams of her grandson, 22-year-old Johnny Seward, who tried to control the fire while Nora tried to wake everyone in the house. The entire family was able to escape through a door on the ground floor. Eleven people were taken to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation.

Seward suffered serious burns and breathing problems from smoke inhalation and was in hospital for several days.

Russell and Nora are staying with their daughter Darlene Henry and the other family members are scattered, staying with relatives across the reserve.

The family didn’t have insurance.

The fire started in the kitchen but fire inspectors are still trying to determine its cause. Foul play is not suspected.

The kitchen is a blackened shell, with appliances coated with ash and insulation littering the floor. Whether the house can be repaired hasn’t been determined.

Darlene is trying to collect donations for her parents, to pay for a fridge, stove, a couch and other furniture that was destroyed in the fire.

“I think everyone is traumatized from this, everyone who was in the house,” Darlene said, as her parents sat quietly beside her in her home. She said everyone is just grateful no one died.

Now that Seward is out of the hospital, the band’s chief, Bruce Underwood, said he’s planning to organize a healing circle so family members can talk about “that horrible night.” From there, he’ll determine if any family members need one-on-one counselling.

“While the family has lost the house, they’re feeling some relief that we’re all together again,” Underwood said. “Now we’re able to lift our heads up a bit and say, ‘yes we do need help’ but at this point, we don’t know what help looks like.”

Russell said it’s no secret that many people live in crowded conditions on First Nations reserves because of a lack of affordable housing.

“I don’t think it’s an uncommon situation, overcrowding,” Underwood said. “Definitely, … we’re very aware of the issues. It’s an added pressure.”

It was an issue brought up in 2009 when five people died in a house fire on the Chemainus reserve. There were 12 people sleeping in the house that night.

Fire prevention officers routinely visit First Nations across the Island to hand out smoke detectors.

For now, Underwood and Darlene Henry are focusing on the goal of repairing the house so the family has a place to live.

“How do we put a family back to normal, with a roof over their heads?” he said.

Darlene said the family wants to thank B.C. Ambulance paramedics, North Saanich firefighters and Sidney/North Saanich RCMP for their fast response.


> A trust fund has been set up to raise money for the family. Donations can be made by contacting the Pauquachin First Nation at 250-656-0191 or Darlene Henry at