Victoria businesses stepped up Friday to donate everything from sports and running equipment to food and stuffed animals for families displaced by a fire in Vic West.
Mel Thornton, 34, and her 12-year-old son, Stephen, had just moved into the top floor of a multi-suite house at 515-517 Wilson St. on Sunday night when a fire broke out in the basement and soon enveloped the three-storey building.
A smoke alarm alerted Stephen, who ran to wake his sleeping mother. They escaped unharmed.
Gord Hinds and his 10-year-old daughter, Jadelyn, and renter John Schlitter also escaped. Several pets, however, died.
The fire caused an estimated $600,000 damage to the 1912 house, which is now uninhabitable. The tenants are without their belongings or a place to live.
In response, the community — organized mostly by the Victoria Fire Department and the CFAX Radio Santas Anonymous Fund — has offered help.
Donations Friday included new running shoes and gear from Frontrunners, lacrosse equipment from Sports Traders and a jersey from the Shamrocks Lacrosse Team for Stephen, $150 in gift cards from Domino’s Pizza, food vouchers from Thrifty Foods and Fairway Market, $200 in gift cards from Fortis B.C., lots of stuffed animals for Jadelyn and a guitar from Santas Anonymous for Stephen, said Victoria firefighter Ajay LeBlanc.
“People have been stepping up huge. This town blows me away,” LeBlanc said.
His Victoria Fire Department colleagues set up a fund at Coast Capital under “515-517 Wilson Street” to which anyone can donate money to any branch for the displaced tenants.
“It was amazing and very overwhelming,” Thornton said. “We are blessed.”
The Victoria Fire Department union Local 730 and Victoria Firefighters Benevolent Fund each donated an initial $500 to the fund.
The Victoria Fire Department took the opportunity Friday to impress upon residents the critical importance of fire-prevention practices — ensuring fire alarms are checked monthly and batteries are changed yearly — and buying renters or home insurance.
“The smoke alarm is what woke up Stephen. … He heard it over his headphones and that’s the reason they got out,” LeBlanc said.