Anand Mishra, his wife Deepika and baby Dia will rebuild their lives after a multi-unit building fire took everything in the home they had established after moving to Canada in 2019. (Photo:K-J Millar/The Northern View)

Anand Mishra, his wife Deepika and baby Dia will rebuild their lives after a multi-unit building fire took everything in the home they had established after moving to Canada in 2019. (Photo:K-J Millar/The Northern View)

Aftermath of building fire

Flames of ruined hope

When the alarm bells pierced Steven Helin’s and Kayla Robinson’s ears shortly after 9 p.m. during the evening of Oct. 5, they thought it was an apartment building drill. When they opened their front door to the acrid smell of burning plastic permeating their nostrils, they realized it was far more serious than a drill. Their pulses started to race as quickly as the worried thoughts clouded their minds.

Helin and Robinson were first-time renters. The young couple in their early 20’s were excited to start a grown-up life. They had worked hard to set up their first apartment with everything new, for their new beginning together.

Steven a bartender in Prince Rupert, and Kayla a housekeeper before losing her job at the start of COVID-19, took possession of their new second story flat on Oct. 3. They had never lived on their own before and had just three days prior moved out of their parent’s homes. The flame of youth made future prospects bright for them.

At 19 and 22 they are both still fresh to life’s experiences. Losing everything they owned and had worked towards in a building fire was not a thought that had crossed their optimistic minds.

“We moved toward the door when we heard the alarm. When we opened it all you could smell was burning plastic. We rushed to get our shoes and sweaters and tried to get to the emergency exit, but that (stairwell) was already full of really dark grey smoke,” Kayla said.

“I started to panic,” Kayla said. “We saw the caretakers wife in the hallway and she didn’t know what was going on. We told her about the emergency exit already not being useable. She rushed to get her husband.”

It all happened very quickly she said, with no time to think or consider options. They were one of the first people out of the building Kayla thinks.

“One of the tenants that we ran into in the hallway was panicking and confused. He wondering where to go because the fire exit was already filled with smoke. He went back into his apartment – that’s the one that the firefighters pulled out,” Kayla said.

READ MORE: Prince Rupert Fire Rescue crew attends building fire on Second Ave.

Kayla said they helplessly stood across the wet road, behind the caution tape to watch the fire burn their home until 11:30 p.m. when they left and took a hotel room for the night. With fire crews fighting the battle until after dawn, the downtown fire decimated three city businesses and more than ten apartments.

Three days after the fire the couple returned to the scene to see the rubble of their life and the charred building pieces piled on the city street corner behind caution fencing. They could look but not touch.

“I think that’s our laundry basket,” Kayla said pointing to the broken meshed plastic laying discarded on the pavement in front of where their first three-day home stood earlier in the week. For the time being, she said she is returning to her mother’s house in Metlakatla and Steven is also going to his mom’s in the city where they can recover from the mentally exhausting flames of now ruined hope.

Hope. Hope was all Anand Mishra and his wife Deepika felt as they stood on the street with their 19- month-old baby watching the flames rip through their home and lives.

At the beginning, Anand said it was hope he felt that everyone got out safely. Then it was hope that the fire was small. Then after an hour of standing on the street it was hope that the fire would be extinguished, and they would be allowed back into their apartment that night. After three hours it was hope that they could find a bottle and diapers for little Aanaha, whom they call Dia.

The couple, new to Canada in 2019, had taken the apartment on the corner of Second and Sixth Ave to start a new life. Their new home worked well for them with Deepika working across the street at Tim Hortons and Anand working opposite shifts at Opa Sushi, so he could look after Dia while his wife worked.

“It was very hard to find a place to live. At that time we had no car, so we were looking downtown,” Anand said referring to the tight availability of housing in Prince Rupert for tenants.

Soon after moving in Deepika started to assist the property manager around the building and the couple became like the building managers. They got to know the tenants by taking maintenance calls, collecting rents, showing the units and renting to new tenants. They had never been instructed how to hold a fire drill, they said.

When the bells rang out on the evening of Oct. 5, Anand and Deepika were at their unit door saying goodbye to dinner guests they had hosted. After a few minutes, the bells wouldn’t stop.

Ananda told The Northern View that alarms would occasionally go off when people were cooking or when someone accidentally pulled the alarm, so he wasn’t scared at that point. He left Deepika in the apartment to reset the alarm panel down the hallway. When the piercing alarms wouldn’t reset or turn off he called the management company. They couldn’t get the alarms to reset either, he said.

As he walked back to his suite, Anand said he was startled to see smoke coming up to the second-floor apartments, through the back emergency exit.

“It was then I got really scared. The back alley is a bit rough. I called 911. Everyone started to come out of their units. I directed them to leave,” he said.

Deepika and Anand were in the hallway trying to get out themselves when tenants from two or three apartments tried to get back in.

“We told them to leave,” Deepika said.

READ MORE: Victim in burning building saved by Prince Rupert Fire Rescue crew

The couple then rushed to grab a blanket for their daughter and quickly left the building themselves. They headed toward the emergency exit, but turned around as it was already filled with smoke.

“We left the building with just the clothes on our backs,” Anand said. “In the hurry for safety, we couldn’t even grab a bottle or diapers for our baby.”

He said it wasn’t until they stood shivering in the night watching the fire department rescue one of the tenants down a ladder that fear and worry started to overcome their feelings of hope for a quick end to the situation.

At 10:30 p.m. Anand said the fire department told tenants they would not be able to stay at the apartments.

“We started to get very scared when we realized that all of our documents were in there. Our passports, our work visas, our birth certificates, and jewellery were all in there, “Anand said. “We couldn’t even get our car keys, so we can’t use our car. It is still parked there.”

“Our first thought was for our baby. She had no diapers or bottles. She was crying and tired. We had no wallets because they were left in our home.”

While Victims Services provided some diapers, they could not find a bottle that late at night. The only place open was the local gas station and convenience store which did not stock the items. Anand said it was a very difficult time for them because they couldn’t get little Dia to drink until the next morning. She was crying and restless and wouldn’t settle easily. Without his wallet, he had to ask his employer for some assistance who brought him bottles the next morning.

“The thoughts come later after things have quietened down,” Anand said, “At the time we were standing outside waiting, hoping we could get back in. Then we stood there until 1 a.m. hoping we could get some belongings out.”

“There was nothing we could do. All we could do was stand there and watch. All I could do for Deepika was hold her while she cried standing there in the night.”

The young family has no support in Canada with their parents and relatives living overseas. The situation is especially hard on his wife Anand said as she has lost all of her heirloom items passed down to her for their wedding. She had brought them with her from India and treasured them being so far from her loved ones and her culture. Her religious icons gave her comfort and they are now gone. Gone are her diamond earrings. Gone is the gold ear cuff given to her by her grandmother. Gone are all the wedding photos, family photos, and photos of special occasions.

Deepika’s eyes filled with tears as she explained the significance of her beautiful ‘mangalsutra’ being lost in the rubble. The necklace was given to her as a bride gift from her groom and is a symbol of marriage and commitment. She said in her eastern culture the gold necklace is the equivalent of a western marriage wedding ring.

Anand said He said the devasting loss has set them back a year and since they have lost everything their families are telling them to go back to India, but that will not be happening, he said.

“I came here with nothing. If we go back, we will have even less. We have jobs here. We will take some time to rebuild,” Anand said with the hope of a better future showing on his face. Deepika smiled a little as sat beside him holding their baby. She nodded in agreement.

The young family said they are overwhelmed with gratitude for the community’s show of support by donations of clothing and household items so they can re-start their lives. They said they are grateful to have secured new housing through people they know where they can move to in mid-October. Their determination and positivity extinguish any flames of doubt they have about moving on. Hope will push them forward.

“Maybe something new will be more positive and something big will happen for us,” Anand said.


K-J Millar | Journalist
Send K-J email
Like the The Northern View on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Kayla Robinson and Steven Helin were tenants at the rental units above three business in a property on the corners of Second Ave and Sixth, in Prince Rupert, which caught fire on Oct. 5. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

Kayla Robinson and Steven Helin were tenants at the rental units above three business in a property on the corners of Second Ave and Sixth, in Prince Rupert, which caught fire on Oct. 5. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

Just Posted

Bears are waking up hungry and starting to forage, Conservation Officer Service said on April 9. Prince Residents are advised to keep garbage in sealed containers to lessen bear attraction. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Keep bears wild – they are not teddy bears

Conservation Officer Service warns bears are waking up hungry

Prince Rupert couple Alvin Tait and Loni Martin have postponed their wedding two times due to COVID-19 affecting the marriage rates in Prince Rupert. (Photo: supplied/L.Martin)
No marriages in Prince Rupert in 2021 so far

Weddings down 23.9% in P.R. since COVID-19 with B.C. wedding industry loss at $158 million

Three North Coast organizations are granted funding to promote multiculturalism and support anti-racism, Jennifer Rice MLA announced on April 8. Conrad Elementary School students recognized the first Black Shirt Day on January 15, 2021, to advocate for anti-racism. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
North Coast organizations to benefit from anti-racism funding

$944,000 granted in provincial funding to aid multiculturalism

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

The new 3,500 hectare conservancy in Tahltan territory is located next to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (BC Parks Photo)
New conservancy protects sacred Tahltan land near Mount Edziza Provincial Park

Project is a collaboration between Skeena Resources, conservation groups and the TCG

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Lily Copeland alleges coach Barney Williams would stand close to her and speak aggressively in the sauna

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

Robinson Russ, 37, was fatally stabbed on April 4, according to a statement from police. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police name victim following city’s fourth homicide of 2021

Robinson Russ, 37, was fatally stabbed Sunday in the Downtown Eastside

A man wears a face mask past the emergency department of the Vancouver General Hospital. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Calls for stricter action in B.C. as COVID-19 variants projected to climb

Jens von Bergmann says the province has taken a ‘wait and see’ approach when early action is needed

Vancouver’s park board general manager issued a new order Friday restricting tents and other temporary structures from being set up in Strathcona Park after April 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver park board issues order to restrict tents in Strathcona Park

The order issued Friday restricted tents and other temporary structures from being set up after April 30

Most Read