Eight Gibsons families who were left homeless after a fire at the Park Rise condo complex last summer are hoping to be back in their homes on June 1. And one of the displaced residents, Polly Powley, can’t say enough about the outpouring of kindness and generosity they have received from the community.
The Aug. 30 late-afternoon fire, started by an outdoor barbeque, took place under bone dry conditions after weeks without precipitation. Fortunately, firefighters were preparing for their regular practice night, so almost 40 were on hand, and all residents were evacuated safely. One eight-unit building was destroyed, but quick action saved the other buildings.
Powley, who is retired, was in her suite watching TV when the alarm went off, and then someone pounded on her door and told her to get out immediately. Powley did – carrying nothing but her keys, her wallet and her shoes.
Residents streamed out into the parking lot and suddenly, said Powley, “there’s hundreds of people.” Many came up and asked how she was and where she would go.
Offers of help poured in “out of the woodwork.” The Gibsons Legion held a fundraiser, as did Elphinstone Secondary School. Powley said she received shopping cards or gift certificates for many local stores including SuperValu, IGA, Marks Work Wearhouse, the Bargain Shop and Cur8ed Homes.
People who Powley had never met offered her a free six-month stay in an apartment. “Total strangers who said, ‘you can have it if you pay the cleaning woman every two weeks’,” said Powley. When her stay is up at the end of March, she has house sitting stints that will carry her until June. And she’s received several offers of furniture and dishes.
Powley had homeowners insurance, but her unit was directly under the blaze, and suffered severe water damage. She lost almost all her possessions including her clothes, furniture, appliances and books.
“The family photos were the hardest of all,” she said.
A few weeks ago Powley was in SuperValu chatting to a friend at the bakery when a woman with a young daughter stopped to listen. She told Powley that her husband is a firefighter and he had been at the scene. Powley told the little girl: “I love your father, he’s my hero.”
Later, as Powley stood at the checkout, the little girl came up with money from her mother. They paid Powley’s grocery bill.
“It was the most touching thing,” said Powley.
“The fire was a terrible experience, but it’s also been a wonderful experience. I don’t have the words for it.”