Vernon opens arms to victims

Public response to help the residents of five units from a Vernon townhouse displaced by a Sept. 13 fire has been phenomenal.

Public response to help the residents of five units from a Vernon townhouse displaced by a Sept. 13 fire has been phenomenal.

The phone at Vernon Native Housing, which operates the Kikanee Estates complex on Heritage Drive where fire broke out shortly after 3 p.m. Sept. 13, destroying three units and damaging two others, has been ringing non-stop with people answering appeals to help the tenants.

“It’s been fantastic,” said Vernon Native Housing spokesperson Karen Gerein of the North Okanagan’s response. “We’ve had lots of phone calls from people offering accommodation, or anything they can do to help.

“There’s been lots of calls from church groups, service groups, the Salvation Army. We want to say thank you to the community at large for the concern. It’s encouraging for us and it’s hugely comforting for the tenants.”

The five units were built to house people with disabilities.

After the fire, residents of three of the five units went to live with family members.

Two tenants were housed in a local hotel by Emergency Social Services for a period that extended beyond the mandated 72 hours, and after that, the Red Cross stepped up and offered a couple of more days of hotel living.

Gerein said all of the displaced residents are contacted daily, and information about possible housing options are being passed along.

“We are passing along names, phone numbers and description of units to the tenants,” she said. “We’re going out and looking, and trying to find something suitable for the short term or a longer term.”

Two of the units will be released back to Vernon Native Housing after minimal smoke damage inside the units are addressed. Gerein said that should take about a month.

The three units destroyed in the fire will be rebuilt and will take about nine months to a year to have everything in place.

All five of the units were insured, and Gerein believed that two of the five had renters insurance.

The Upper Room Mission has been taking donations of household items for those affected by the fire, and the response there has also been significant, which has helped ease concerns from the tenants.

“Because there’s been great support from the community at large, I think they’re feeling more calm about the situation,” said Gerein. “They’re realizing that everyone is there for them, and we are trying to assist them in finding accommodations and getting them back in their units.

“The donations (at the Upper Room Mission) are great, and we want to say thank you. When they do find a place, they’ll have a place to sit.”

Gerein praised the efforts of the Enderby Lions Club, Allan Brooks Nature Centre Society and the Salvation Army for help with household items.

Vernon Fire Rescue Services continues to investigate the cause of the fire.



Vernon Morning Star