VIDEO: Cultus Lake arson victim returns to site of her destroyed home

VIDEO: Cultus Lake arson victim returns to site of her destroyed home

Jo-Ann Heidel lost everything including five birds, her cat and a customized wheelchair

Jo-Ann Heidel lost everything in a devastating fire that was intentionally set at her mobile home at Cultus Lake Village on June 13.

The woman who suffered a stroke in 2016 and lost her mobility using a wheelchair to get around, returned to the site on July 3 with friends and family to see if there was anything that could be salvaged.

Her son Jacob picked through the charred remains as a friend dug around at the spot where her nightstand would have been to see if her jewelry could be found.

The home was destroyed along with her five birds, her cat and her custom wheelchair.

She made it out thanks to a neighbour who picked her up out of her wheelchair as she was struggling with a large cage and her five birds.

“Five birds and my cat didn’t make it out,” Heidel said. “It was scary. It was very scary.”

She got out with her power scooter and the clothes on her back.

Compounding the trauma is the fact that for the near quarter century she has lived in the mobile home she had insurance. In December, her insurance expired.

“I always had insurance until this year,” she said. “My insurance ran out in December and they told me they wouldn’t reinsure me because my hot water tank is more than 10 years old. I don’t have $1,500 right now for a new hot water tank.”

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Immediately after the fire that destroyed not only Heidel’s home but also her neighbour’s, damaging two others, a man was arrested just after midnight on June 13. RCMP were not releasing the name of the man arrested, but Heidel knows it was “Donnie” Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is the son of her friend Carson who was living in an RV in the driveway. That RV was also destroyed.

According to Court Services Online records, 42-year-old Donald Fitzgerald appeared in front of a judicial justice at 8:18 p.m. on June 13 and he was charged with attempted murder, arson in relation to inhabited property, and arson damaging property.

On June 17, the charges were dropped by the Chilliwack Crown office, something that shocked Heidel and her friend Janice Vye. The case is still under investigation by the RCMP and some or all charges could be relaid at a later date.

Meanwhile, Vye and other friends are hoping to raise funds to help Heidel rebuild. Vye created a GoFundMe to start, but a bigger event is planned at Duke’s Country Pub.

“Jo-Ann is a very kind, giving, person who would give the shirt off her back if needed,” Vye said. “She will need to find a home that is wheelchair accessible as well as somewhere she can take her small dogs as they are her life.”

The event at Duke’s is on July 13 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 per person and includes a roast beef buffet. There will be a silent auction, 50/50 draw and a live band performing. Tickets can be purchased by calling Janice Vye at 604-378-8799.

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Chilliwack Progress