Arson fire destroys home
A fire that destroyed a house early Saturday in Maple Ridge leaving a family homeless is being investigated as an arson.
The blaze tore through the two-storey house on Dunbar Street just before 3 a.m., burning the structure to its frame.
It’s the second arson fire in the neighbourhood and the fifth in the downtown core in the past three months.
Joanne Georgelin was sound asleep when the fire started, but woke up to a loud pop, followed by a bang.
She ran out of her bedroom to the front door and saw an orange “fireball” on her deck.
As the blaze grew, Georgelin ran back into her bedroom, grabbed her phone, one of her dogs and frantically yelled for her daughter Rebecca, who was asleep on the same floor.
“I was screaming at my daughter the whole time to get out,” says Georgelin.
“When I put my fingers on the chain to unchain the door, it blistered my fingers. It was that hot.”
Barely a minute after she heard the first pop, the house was filled with thick, black smoke.
“It was so thick I couldn’t even see my daughter near me.”
Georgelin, her daughter, their great Dane George and English mastiff Ginny all escaped through the front door and watched in horror as flames engulfed their cars and quickly swallowed their home, located near Haney Nokai Park.
“We were all scared the cars were going to blow up,” Georgelin said.
The Great Dane, George, went back into the house shortly after they escaped, but eventually ran back out.
“We think he may have ran back in to round up the cat,” said Georgelin, who has yet to find Susie, the family’s 14-year-old Calico cat.
Firefighters believe the cat escaped. Neighbours have spotted her, with distinct half black, half white face, in the area.
Georgelin is thankful her second daughter Elizabeth was not home when the arsonist hit, since her bedroom is on the ground floor.
“She might have not got out,” Georgelin said with relief.
The family lost everything in the fire. Georgelin works as a clerk for the District of Maple Ridge and rents the house from the municipality.
She managed to salvage some jewelry from the charred remains.
Elizabeth, who teaches music, managed to find her guitars, but her piano was destroyed.
Both daughters are in university and lost all their text books.
Fire chief Dane Spence called the family’s escape a “close call.”
Although fire trucks arrived within minutes of receiving a dispatch from 911, the blaze had already spread through most of the structure. A plume of smoke and the glow of flames could be seen from both fire halls, kilometres away from the scene.
Firefighters and five fire trucks focused on protecting neighbouring properties as soon as they arrived.
Spence said it was too late to try and save the Georgelins’ home.
“There is nothing left,” said Spence.
“A total loss of contents. It was a harrowing experience for the two occupants.”
Ridge Meadows RCMP are investigating the fire and have already deemed it suspicious.
“This very easily could have been a horrific tragedy, and possible loss of life,” said Cpl. Alanna Dunlop. “Police and fire investigators are working around the clock to determine the cause, and find the persons responsible for this fire.”
Monday morning, a car was torched near 222nd Street and Lougheed Highway, an incident that has also been classified as an arson.
Investigators say it is too early to determine if a string of deliberately set fires lit in the neighbourhood three months ago are linked.
In April, two old vacant houses on Lougheed Hwy., some patio furniture on Cliff Avenue and a shed on Dunbar St. went up in smoke in the span of a night.
The shed was adjacent to the Georgelin’s home. That fire spread from the shed to bushes and destroyed the home’s back deck.
“I heard the same sound when that house got hit a few months ago,” said Georgelin, referring to the pop that woke her up early Saturday.
• Anyone with information on the fire or anyone witnessed suspicious people in the area of Dewdney Trunk Road, Dunbar Street, or Nokai Park on Saturday, Aug. 3 around 2:45 a.m. is asked to call Corporal Clay Copeland at 604-467-7602.
Friends and neighbours of the Georgelins are rallying to help the family get back on their feet.
A trust account has been set up at Westminster Savings credit union on 224th Street, just off Lougheed Highway in Maple Ridge. (Account name: Joanne Georgelin/ Account number: 451548214)
The family urgently needs to rent a three bedroom house that allows pets.
Jessie Mitchell, meanwhile, is organizing an event at the Haney Public House to raise money for family.
“They need all the help they can get,” said Mitchell, a friend of Rebecca and Elizabeth Georgelin.
The comedy night fundraiser for the Georgelin’s takes place Friday at the Haney Public House on Lougheed Highway near 222nd Street. Tickets are $10 and doors open at 6 p.m.
Mitchell recommends people buy tickets in advance by calling her at 778-899-9442. Tickets will also be available at the door. The event will feature a toonie toss and a raffle. Mitchell is looking for donations from businesses for the raffle. Anyone with household items to donate to the family can call her to arrange for pickup. For more details on upcoming fundraisers or to donate via PayPal, visit Georgelin Family Fundraiser on Facebook.