Devastating Burnaby fire should be a wake-up call to all of us

Chris Campbell

I sat in my car early Friday morning stinking of smoke and feeling morose.

Covering fires like the one that happened on Pender Street in Burnaby will do that to a person. Friday’s fire gutted an old home and sent two people to hospital with smoke inhalation.

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Neighbours told me an elderly couple lived in the home. Just look at the photo of the fire in this post and you can tell this post-war house is now a hollowed-out shell.

“Insurance will cover the damage,” a friend told me.

Sure, if they have insurance. But losing pieces of furniture and cooking utensils isn’t what devastates people. It’s likely losing all of those precious family heirlooms and photos compiled over a lifetime of living. (Hopefully the photos were stored on a digital cloud somewhere.)

Those can never be replaced.

And that’s what I was thinking about as I sat in my car after taking photos at the scene. A thick haze hung over the North Burnaby neighbourhood as firefighters were still pouring water on the home and the one next door that also caught fire. I know people think journalists get off on tragedy, but we don't. Nobody enjoys seeing somebody's life destroyed by something like this.

But it got personal for me.

I could feel the smoke in my throat as I remembered something that happened to me when I was 15.

I was alone in our North Burnaby house on a Sunday morning when I went downstairs and discovered that the basement had flooded.

I can still remember that sinking feeling as I saw the boxes of photo slides and prints floating by. We lost about 90 per cent of all of our family photos in that flood. Decades of family memories lost in one morning.

I managed to salvage a few prints. Only enough to fill about one-third of a photo album. Several other items that were precious to me were also destroyed by the water. They were kept in a keepsakes box that was soaked with filthy water.

I felt sad and angry and a little lost for months afterwards because I knew then how important family memories are. It still stings decades later.

So my heart is shattered thinking about everything this family has lost, along with the trauma of having gone through a fire.

It’s a wake-up call to do an assessment of your most important family photos and heirlooms. Photos are less of a concern now because everything can be digitized and stored in a Cloud.

But if you also have precious keepsakes, you should look at where and how they are stored in case the unthinkable happens.

Like I said, insurance only goes so far.

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.




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