A Sarnia woman says she is recovering from the trauma of losing her home and almost everything she owned in a fire allegedly started by an arsonist.
Alicia Reny said her faith in humanity was shaken badly but an outpouring of community support is restoring it. The kindness of friends and strangers has made her determined to bounce back, she said.
Reny, a single 28-year-old with two jobs, was at a party Jan. 21 when she got a call that her apartment on Lydia Street was on fire.
“When I got home, there were fire trucks everywhere. I was in shock, disbelief. I just couldn’t process it,” she said.
The house had an upper and lower unit, and all three residents were out at the time, including a woman and her child who lived below.
The front entrance was damaged where the fire originated, Reny said. Firefighters contained the flames but smoke and water destroyed almost everything in the house, including her art and painting supplies.
“It looked like someone took black spray paint and coated everything,” she said. The only clothes salvaged were in a heavy oak dresser and wearable after several washings.
“Everything else was garbage.”
The fire left her homeless. That night Reny stayed with family. The next morning two volunteers from the Canadian Red Cross came to talk to her and the other tenant.
“Their hearts were definitely into it,” she said. “You could sense their passion and that the Red Cross wanted to help.
“I began to relax and feel like we were being taken care of.”
The Red Cross, through its disaster management department, sends volunteers to all types of disasters, but most in Sarnia tend to be fires, said Donna Girard, regional disaster management advisor.
Sarnia firefighters have contended with 14 structure fires since Jan. 1. The Red Cross, which has attended three of them, is generally called when victims have no place to go or no insurance.
Reny was offered a hotel for three nights, which she declined because she could stay with family. She also declined a meal ticket, but because she had no content insurance accepted a $200 gift card to buy essentials at Walmart.
“They also gave me a bag of toiletries and had a teddy for the other tenant’s son. I can’t say enough about how much they helped.”
One of Reny’s girlfriends started a crowd-funding page (https://www.gofundme.com/arsonhousefiretakeseverything) that has raised almost $3,000.
“I don’t know about 50% of the people who gave on there,” Reny said. “Just seeing the amount of love takes away a lot of the loss.”
One of her workplaces, The Inn of the Good Shepherd, helped out with a winter coat, boots and other necessities.
Her other workplace, The Best Western Plus Guildwood Inn, hosted a Feb. 10 benefit that raised another $3,000.
The number of businesses offering door prizes was amazing, she said.
“Sarnia comes together when tragedy happens, and that’s made me feel it’s okay to talk about what happened.”
She is staying with family for now and hopes to get enough money together for a down payment on a house.
“And this time I’ll make sure I have insurance,” she said. “I want to tell all renters to get insurance. And everyone should make sure they have a fire plan.
“It was so lucky no one was home.”
Girard said the Canadian Red Cross answers 15 to 25 emergency calls a year in Sarnia. Nearly two dozen local volunteers are trained to respond, but Girard would like to double that number.
Red Cross volunteers can limit their response to local calls or can be deployed around the world.
Anyone interested can call 1-844-818-2155 for details.