Euphemia Street Fire, March 24, 2022. Photo courtesy of Sarnia Fire and Rescue via Twitter. Euphemia Street Fire, March 24, 2022. Photo courtesy of Sarnia Fire and Rescue via Twitter.

Sarnia woman remains positive after losing possessions in fire

The importance of working smoke alarms and remaining calm during a terrifying situation are being highlighted following a recent fire in Sarnia.

Rina Okimaw lived on the second floor of a triplex, located at 115 Euphemia St., when a fire sparked on March 24 in a separate unit. The fire caused about $150,000 worth of damages.

She said the fire started in a room, below where she and her four-year-old and six-year-old daughters were sleeping.

"We heard the alarm, when I went to step out my front door, there was no way of me going out the front door. The smoke had already taken over the whole entire building," she said.

After closing the door, Okimaw put a towel on the floor to prevent smoke from seeping into their unit as much as possible. Her attention then turned to the fire escape, however, she said flames could be seen coming out of a separate window onto the stairs.

"I was trapped. I had nowhere to go with my girls."

Her 21-year-old son happened to be in the unit at the time. Approximately 40 minutes before the fire started, Okimaw said she went to her son's unit within the triplex and asked if he would sleep in her unit because she was not feeling well.

"If he hadn't been home, there's no way that I would have made it out of that house with the two girls and my dog," she said.

Okimaw's son wrapped the two girls in blankets and carried them down the steep fire escape one at a time.

"He had to walk through the flames," she said.

Despite calls from neighbours not to go back inside, he went back in for the family dog and carried the 75 pound German Shepherd to safety.

"It was just so scary. They tell you to stay calm while this is all happening, but I'm telling you if my son hadn't been there... I was a mess," Okimaw said.

The scared mother said they got out of the home with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, with not even shoes or slippers to wear outside.

She revisited the residence last week but nothing was salvageable.

"I went back with my landlord and I just could not believe the damage to this house. It's destroyed."

She said most of the damage to their second-floor unit was caused by smoke and water.

Okimaw and her family have faced similar circumstances of having to basically start over with little to no belongings. They relocated to Sarnia from Saskatoon and stayed at a family shelter for 11 months. They moved into the Euphemia Street triplex in August 2021.

Now, they're back at the shelter.

Okimaw said they have received a lot of support from the Women's Interval Home, the Inn of the Good Shepherd, and St. Matthew's Catholic School.

"We were getting community support to help rebuild our lives and now again," said Okimaw.

She said the family has tried to remain positive through this situation as they are grateful to have made it out alive. Okimaw said her daughters are still trying to grasp what happened.

"My six-year-old is on the spectrum so comprehension of just what's happening -- I don't think has really hit my younger girls yet but then again they've been distracted by the outpour of the community support," Okimaw said.

On the same night of the Euphemia Street fire, Sarnia Fire and Rescue were called to a separate blaze on Alice Street.

Fire Life Safety Educator Mike Otis said there have been seven structure fires in the last three weeks, six of which took place between March 14 and March 24.

Otis said his message to residents is to have a home escape plan in place and working smoke alarms on every level of a residence.

"You see it time and time again, working smoke alarms makes all the difference," said Otis. "No matter how much you say it, you still have issues with it everywhere."

Meantime, members of the Ontario Fire Marshal's office are still investigating a fire on Lanark Crescent reported Sunday.

Otis said local firefighters revisited the area on Tuesday to notify residents of the incident and ensure they had working alarms. The "After the Fire" awareness campaign will continue in order to get safety messages across.

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