Paula Lucas had just finished breakfast in her Dogwood Apartments unit after working a night shift as a health care aide in Port Alberni. It wasn’t quite 7 a.m. on Sunday, June 28, 2020, and everyone else in her house was still asleep. After a nap, her days off would start.
Suddenly, she smelled plastic burning.
“I went to the dining room and (the smell) was getting stronger and stronger,” she said. “I went back to the kitchen and said to myself, ‘I know I shut the stove off.’
“I could hear someone yelling, but I don’t know what was said. After the second time (smelling plastic burning) I came from the kitchen and went outside and said ‘is something burning?’ I looked to the side and saw flames coming out the window.”
The unit next door was on fire. Six people had managed to escape the unit, which by now was full of flames.
Lucas ran back inside to wake up her family. “I said you need to go outside. There’s a fire next door.”
Lucas, a family friend and Lucas’ two sons had all been fast asleep; two of them left the house in bare feet, panicking when they were woken up and told to get out.
Lucas didn’t know what to do: the family piled into her car and drove to her mother’s home, on the other side of the 10th Avenue dip. “We could see all the smoke,” she said. “I was in shock.”
Once the fire next door was extinguished, Paula discovered everything in her uninsured home was either melted or damaged from smoke or water. She had lost everything.
After driving around town for a little while trying to figure out what to do, Lucas went to another family member, who fed them breakfast.
Lucas said finding help took her awhile; he had left the apartments while firefighters were working to extinguish the blaze. After breakfast she took her oldest and youngest sons to the ferry so her oldest son could return home; he took his younger brother, who is nine, with him.
While the Lucas family is now relocated in a new unit, they are still struggling to furnish their new home and replace everything they lost—from clothes to kitchen appliances, to beds and a television. “My younger son cried all day because he was traumatized,” she said.
“It’s stressful, especially not having a place to call home at the moment. Materialistic things are replaceable; we’re not.”
Friend Chuutsqa Rorick created a GoFundMe for Paula and Clifford to help them recover from the effects of their neighbours’ fire. They are hoping to raise $10,000 to give the family a new start.
“Maatkwaayakšiił (Clifford Lucas) and saa?a (Paula Lucas) are both very active in Hesquiaht language learning and in our culture as singers and dancers,” Rorick wrote about the couple.
“They both work very hard at their jobs, at physical training to be healthy and strong, and they graduated together with their Dogwood diplomas this month. Their young children are traumatized by the loss of their home in this fire.”
Lucas is grateful others like Rorick have stepped up to help them. “It’s amazing how fast people come together in a time of need,” Lucas said.
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