It only took about 20 minutes for Natasha Candelora’s home to collapse when it caught fire, but the debris burned into the night. (Photo courtesy Natasha Candelora)

It only took about 20 minutes for Natasha Candelora’s home to collapse when it caught fire, but the debris burned into the night. (Photo courtesy Natasha Candelora)

Foster family loses Old Remo home to fire

B.C. ministry unhelpful in aftermath of fire, family says

Natasha Candelora left her house in Old Remo around 5:10 p.m. on Oct. 7 to take her two children into town for Taekwondo practice. Within an hour, their home burned to the ground, leaving behind only a smoldering pile of rubble.

The fire was devastating for the family. Not only did it completely destroy their home and all their possessions (including irreplaceable photographs), it also jeopardized Natasha’s eligibility to continue as a foster parent to the two children, whom she has cared for the last seven years and loves as her own.

She said that day leading up to the fire was a bit hectic but relatively normal. She spent the day on a cleaning frenzy and prepped dinner before rounding the kids up for the trip into town.

It was Natasha’s parents, Bob and Barb Wilson, and brother Tony Candelora who saw smoke rising from Natasha’s house. They live right next door in another house on the same property — a small farm where the family keeps a few horses and domestic pets.

Bob and Tony rushed outside when they saw the smoke. Tony didn’t even put on shoes. Bob said they went inside the burning house to get the pets out.

“The whole roof of the house, inside the house, was just swirling with smoke,” Bob said. “There was no flames or nothing, it was just smoke. Black smoke, just like curls on a woman’s hair … It was weird. It really was.”

Tony got the dog, Redford, a rust-coloured doberman, out safely. The cats took care of themselves. Bob and Tony got the rabbits out.

“Then we turned around and looked back and the whole roof just come down,” Bob said, noting that when he and Tony opened the door to enter, air flowed up to the fire smoldering in the roof of the home. “Probably within less than 45 seconds the whole thing just come crashing down.”

Barb dialed 9-1-1, momentarily forgetting that their property is outside the Thornhill Volunteer Fire Department’s coverage zone. The operator reiterated that fact and dispatched RCMP to assist.

Rick Boehm, chief of the Thornhill fire department, told The Terrace Standard that it’s always tough for the fire department when they hear about a fire just outside their protection zone. The zone boundary is a federally-mandated 8-kilometre radius around the fire hall. Firefighters are only allowed to leave their protection boundary when someone’s life is in danger, such as a person trapped in a burning building, which wasn’t the case with this fire.

Barb said it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. From start to finish, the fire only lasted about 20 minutes, and she figures the fire department wouldn’t have been able to react in time.

Boehm said that it does indeed take some time to get fire engines out to Old Remo.

“The Old Remo location is sort of compound affected by the significant climb up that hill,” he said. “[Fire engines] can only go so quick on that little road and it is quite a slug to get those heavy, heavy trucks up that hill.”

Meanwhile, the kids were at Taekwando and Natasha was relaxing at Cafenara with her boyfriend, Terry Healy, who had just arrived in Terrace that evening after a day of work in Prince Rupert. That’s when Natasha’s cell phone rang.

“My mom’s yelling at me ‘Your house is on fire’ and I’m like ‘what?’” Natasha said. “You’re in shock when you hear that.”

She rushed to gather the children from Taekwando while Terry jumped in his truck and drove like mad out to Old Remo. Even at breakneck speed, the roughly 14-kilometre drive from Terrace to the farm still leaves enough time for one’s mind to churn.

“I was wondering how far along the fire was. Can we save anything?” Terry said. “I didn’t think that the house was totally gone. I didn’t assume it would be that bad [but] as soon as I started down Queensway, and you look back this way, all you could see is a cloud of black smoke.”

Natasha was just minutes behind with the children.

“It looked like the whole forest was on fire,” she said.

When she arrived, she noticed a collection of onlookers.

“We had a lineup of people sitting in their cars, and I have to say, for me one of the most awful feelings is people sitting in their vehicle with their windows rolled up watching your house burn down,” Natasha said, tears welling in her eyes as she recalled the memory.

But there were also friendly neighbours who arrived to help. A pair of them comforted Natasha.

“They’re holding me and I’m getting sick beside the car,” she said. “It’s overwhelming, the grief, the panic that goes through your mind.”

— ~ —

Nearly four weeks after the fire, the smell of smoke still hangs in the air at the family farm. It’s Oct. 30 and the rubble has yet to be cleared. Redford, the doberman, has bandages on his front paws because he cut them mucking about in the debris.

The debris won’t be cleared until Natasha’s insurance processes the claim, and snow might fall before that, meaning cleanup may not happen until next year. Candelora says dealing with the insurance company has been straightforward (the company already supplied emergency funding for a hotel stay and items such as clothes) but the process inherently takes time. She is also waiting for the insurance company to complete an investigation of the fire and determine the cause — something the fire department would do, if Natasha’s home were within the fire protection district.

The family sits in the living room of Bob and Barb’s home. Natasha is still under a lot of stress trying to sort out new living arrangements and replace essential items, and the whole family is worn out from the ordeal. But they haven’t lost their senses of humour. They all laugh as Barb describes how Natasha’s cats moved themselves, with an air of entitlement, into Bob and Barb’s home.

The children, who are both around 12 years old, are coping fairly well, all things considered. The brother and sister are not identified in this story because provincial policy prevents foster children from being identified in the media. Initially, the girl was scared to go back to school because she was afraid of what all the other kids would say, but when she did go back she found her peers to be caring and supportive. The boy has expressed some anger following the fire.

Bob and Natasha also say they are frustrated, particularly with B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development, which oversees the foster care program. Bob and Barb are also foster parents, currently caring for four children. Bob and Barb have been foster parents for 25 years and Natasha has been a foster parent for 19 years. They say the ministry has been insulting and unhelpful in the aftermath of the fire, despite the decades-long relationship between the family and the ministry.

Almost immediately after the fire, a ministry worker informed Natasha that she had 30 days to find a new place or the children could be taken from her because Natasha’s contract with the ministry states she must have her own dwelling with enough bedrooms for each of the children to have their own.

“It’s tough some days, but it is equally rewarding or you wouldn’t do it. It’s not for everyone to be a foster parent, but it’s something we’ve chosen as a family to give back. We feel it’s our calling,” Natasha says. “And then I don’t have the home any more so now I’m told … ‘you have a month to find a suitable place to raise these children.’”

Candelora says the ministry’s lack of flexibility on the timeline is unreasonable because rental properties are scarce in the Terrace area and the ministry offered no help in locating a rental or financial assistance with rent despite the fact that rent prices are much higher than her monthly mortgage payment. She says the ministry should have contingency funding to support foster families in crises.

“You would think that there would be maybe something set aside by the government for emergency,” she says. “Don’t tell me that there isn’t some funding.”

She says the notion that her children could be taken from her adds unnecessary pressure to an already stressful situation.

“So these kids that know no one but me as their mother would have to go live with someone [else],” Natasha says through tears. “If they’re not with me they’ve been with my parents. They don’t know anyone but us. And they’re going to have to suffer and be punished for something out of all of our control? Because it’s not [ministry] policy?”

“When we try to resolve situations in the ministry, we always get ‘well, it’s our policy,’” Bob says. “Even though the policy doesn’t make any common sense, even if you couldn’t live by that policy, we are expected to live by that policy.”

The ministry offered only limited financial support to replace the children’s belongings like jackets and boots, Bob says.

“It was very insulting for [ministry workers] to come out here two days after the fire with a dozen donuts and four cups of coffee and $200 for one child and $200 for another child to replace everything that [the children] owned,” Bob says.

The family says they could face consequences for speaking out against the ministry, which has a culture of silence, but they are fed up with the mistreatment.

“Because of what I have said … I could [metaphorically] have a knife to my throat tomorrow,” Bob says.

“It’s their own little secret society,” Natasha says.

“It’s sad. And that’s why in our community we have very few foster parents. And very few relief workers,” Bob says.

A manager of the local ministry office refused a request for comment and would not provide a reason why.

Angus Noble, a public affairs officer who works for the ministry at the provincial level, said foster parents are required to have their own home insurance that covers emergencies like fires or floods.

“In addition, [the ministry] supports the availability of ‘Extended Property Damage (Rider) Insurance’ to supplement a residential caregiver’s homeowner or tenant insurance policy,” Noble said in an email statement. “This mirrors a foster parent’s basic coverage where damage is caused by a child or youth in care.”

Noble said that when a foster parent suddenly loses access to housing, the ministry will work the parent to find a suitable alternative. He said that if the foster parent’s insurance didn’t cover the cost of alternative housing, the ministry may be able to pay for temporary support such as a hotel stay.

— ~ —

On Nov. 5, Natasha said she had finally secured a rental for her and the children. That was a great relief, she said, though many challenges for the family still lie ahead, such as ironing out insurance details, managing the tricky financial situation, and creating a sense of normalcy for the children.

She’s deeply grateful to the Terrace area community who helped her family by donating money and clothing, particularly for the children.

“They’ve got a decent pair of winter boots on their feet,” she said. “Without the community’s help, honestly I would have been screwed.”

Natasha said relying on the community and her family for help can be uncomfortable at times, because she was so proud to have lived as an independent woman raising her children before the fire. Nevertheless, she appreciates the help.

Anyone interested in providing support to the family can contact Natasha directly at natashacandelora@gmail, or through Facebook.



jake.wray@terracestandard.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

 

Natasha Candelora and her family are waiting for their insurance company to process their claim before debris from their home that burned down. (Photo courtesy Natasha Candelora)

Natasha Candelora and her family are waiting for their insurance company to process their claim before debris from their home that burned down. (Photo courtesy Natasha Candelora)

Natasha Candelora, centre, sits with her boyfriend Terry Healy, left, and her father Bob Wilson, right, on Oct. 30. Out of frame are Natasha’s two foster children, her mom, Barb Wilson, and the family dog, Redford. The family, seen here in Bob and Barb’s living room, are in good spirits despite the ordeal of losing Natasha’s home to a fire on Oct. 7. (Jake Wray/Terrace Standard)

Natasha Candelora, centre, sits with her boyfriend Terry Healy, left, and her father Bob Wilson, right, on Oct. 30. Out of frame are Natasha’s two foster children, her mom, Barb Wilson, and the family dog, Redford. The family, seen here in Bob and Barb’s living room, are in good spirits despite the ordeal of losing Natasha’s home to a fire on Oct. 7. (Jake Wray/Terrace Standard)

Just Posted

The Cone Zone campaign is in its 11th year to remind drivers to slow down when approaching roadside workers because roadwork is hazardous. (Photo: supplied )
Cone Zone campaign urges Terrace drivers to slow down around roadside workers

Over 200 roadside workers have been injured in the past decade, 12 killed

The Terrace & District Chamber of Commerce is hosting a virtual all-candidates forum for the Terrace council byelection on May 25 at 7 p.m. (Ben Bogstie/Terrace Standard)
Date set for Terrace council byelection all-candidates forum

Forum will be held virtually on May 25, at 7 p.m.

Galdys Radek poses alongside her car called ‘war pony’ which has photos of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls from B.C. (Binny Paul/ Terrace Standard)
Keeping alive the stories of murdered & missing Indigenous women and girls

Gladys Radek on grassroots activism for MMIWG and teaching the next generation to raise their voices

A worker at Wee Geordies Liquor Store held at knifepoint on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. A female entered the store and grabbed a bottle of liquor and produced a knife and demanded money. She was not located. (Wee Geordies video surveillance screenshot)
VIDEO: Two stores robbed on the same day in Kitimat

The first incident was at 5:45 a.m. and the second incident occurred 3:30 p.m.

Do Your Part Recycling Co is celebrating 15 years of its operation in Terrace this May. (Binny Paul/Terrace Standard)
How a homegrown Terrace business became a vital cog in the regional recycling initiative

Do Your Part Recycling owner Kasey Lewis on how they started 15 years ago

A prowling coyote proved no match for a stray black cat who chased it out of a Port Moody parking lot Friday, May 14. (Twitter/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Little but fierce: Cat spotted chasing off coyote by Port Moody police

The black cat is seen jumping out from under a parked car and running the wild animal out of a vacant lot

A forest of dance-protesters outside the BC Legislature on April 11. These participants were doing the Dance for the Ancient Forest in support of the Fairy Creek blockade and against old-growth logging. (Zoë Ducklow/News Staff)
Arrests begin at Fairy Creek blockade on Vancouver Island

Five protesters arrested as RCMP begin to enforce injunction

A thunderstorm pictured in Fraser Valley in 2021. (Black Press Media/Jaimie Grafstrom)
Wildfire concerns sparked after 320+ lightning strikes blasted B.C. yesterday

Approximately one-quarter of the province is currently listed as being at moderate risk of fire

A restaurant server on White Rock’s Marine Drive serves customers on a roadside patio. Indoor dining and recreational travel bans have been in effect since late March in B.C. (Peace Arch News)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate falls to 411 cases Tuesday

360 people in hospital, up slightly, two more deaths

The Banff National Park entrance is shown in Banff, Alta., Tuesday, March 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Minister asks Canadians to camp carefully in national parks as season starts

Kitchen shelters in Banff National Park closed, trails on Vancouver Island will only be one-way

Names of those aboard the ship are seen at Komagata Maru monument in downtown Vancouver, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. The City of Vancouver has issued an apology for its racist role in denying entry to 376 passengers aboard a ship that was forced to return to India over a century ago. Mayor Kennedy Stewart says discrimination by the city had “cruel effects” on the Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims aboard the Komagata Maru, which arrived in Burrard Inlet on May 23, 1914. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver mayor says sorry for city’s role in turning away South Asians in 1914

Kennedy Stewart has declared May 23 as the annual Komagata Maru Day of Remembrance

A crew of WestCoast WILD Adventures employees tackled an onslaught of litter left at the ‘Locks of Love’ fence at Wally Creek on May 2. (Anne-Marie Gosselin photo)
Litter woes consume popular ‘Locks of Love’ fence on B.C.’s Pacific Rim

Popular view spot near Tofino plagued by people hanging masks and other unwanted garbage

Vincent Doumeizel, senior advisor at the United Nations Global Compact on Oceans, as well as director for the Food Programme for the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, pulls up some sugar kelp seaweed off the French coast in April 2020. He was the keynote speaker during the opening ceremony of the inaugural Seaweed Days Festival. (Vincent Doumeizel/Submitted)
Let’s hear it for seaweed: slimy, unsexy and the world’s greatest untapped food source

Experts talks emerging industry’s challenges and potential at Sidney inaugural Seawood Days Festival

Troy Patterson, a Cadboro Bay 15-year-old, got a virtual meeting with B.C.’s environment minister months after he started an online petition calling for construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline to stop. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
B.C. teen’s 23,000-name Coastal GasLink petition gets him an audience with the minister

15-year-old Saanich high school student and George Heyman discussed project for about 30 minutes

Most Read