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A SILK gown worn by a scholarship winner during performances at this year’s Pacific Northwest Music Festival was one of the few items saved when a fire destroyed the family home just days before.
Rheann Armes and her father, Peter, were at the Old Remo home the morning of April 25 when two sounds caught their attention.
“Somebody was honking their horn [and I] heard the upstairs fire alarm at the same time,” said Peter.
“I went out to see what the horn was about and I could hear it (the fire) on the roof, crackling, snapping.”
He yelled for Rheann, 16, to get out of the house before using a fire extinguisher in an attempt to control the blaze which appeared to have started in a storage room or in the roof area.
“I didn’t really think it was that bad,” said Peter about the fire, adding he talked to a neighbour who said the house was falling down while he was inside it. “I didn’t quite realize that.”
Smoke forced Peter into Rheann’s room which was farthest away from the fire.
He smashed the bedroom window because there was no other way out, tossed her gown out the window and found her dog, a Chihuahua, which had initially run out of Rheann’s bedroom but returned to hide in the closet.
“I tried to get other stuff,” Peter said afterward. “I was thinking ‘why didn’t I do this and that, [take] pictures and albums?’”
A neighbour, he wasn’t sure who, had moved his pickup early on to save it from burning as well.
Peter also managed to save a saxophone belonging to his youngest daughter, Celin, 13, who was at school that morning.
The blaze burned the house down to the crawl space in about 40 minutes, said Armes.
Rheann had called 911 on a cell phone although the family knew fire departments would not respond because Old Remo is not within any fire protection area.
Even if they lived within the fire protection zone, the fire department would likely take 15 or 20 minutes to get there and by that time, most of the house was gone, Peter noted.
RCMP officers did come out to the fire.
The family stayed at the Northern Motor Inn for three days before moving into the log cabin on their property, where they used to live before moving to the house that burned down.
The cabin needed some repairs and to make it accessible for Rheann.
Peter said neighbour Chad Buhr renovated the cabin’s bathroom to accommodate Rheanne who is in a wheelchair. Another neighbour, Maya Ehses, did some painting as well.
“So many people have helped us,” he said, adding Celin has a purple bedroom in the log house like she had in the house. “It’s humbling,” Armes said about how everyone has helped.
He’s not sure what will be done with the charred remains of their home but something will have to be done as passing by it every day is “pretty depressing.”
An accomplished singer, Rheann suffered a broken back and other injuries in a car crash in Nov. 2010 on Hwy16 between Vanderhoof and Prince George. She is now in a wheelchair. Celin was also injured in the crash as was mother Karen Millard.
Rheann won the scholarship for most outstanding senior performer at this year’s Pacific Northwest Music Festival and sang at the festival’s scholarship night April 27 and the next night at the festival’s closing gala where she received a standing ovation.
Anyone who wants to help out financially can donate to the Armes’ Family Trust at Northern Savings Credit Union that’s been set up by friends and family.