High flames that spread within minutes left the Ricard family’s White Rock home in ruins, with little but their own lives being saved from the damage.
“I’ve been here three or four times, but I have not been inside,” Renee Ricard, told Peace Arch News as she stood outside the family’s burned-out home with one of her son’s, Evan Ricard.
“It’s still really hard, we were here 10-and-a-half years.”
Evan, 35, Renee and her oldest son, Ryan Ricard, 36, had been visiting Evan’s daughter in Richmond on Monday, Aug. 15, when they experienced an engine failure on their return home, leaving the family to take public transit. This proved a challenge because Ryan, who is disabled, uses a wheelchair, Renee said.
Furthering the issue, the bus from White Rock Centre was out of service, meaning the three had to walk to their home in the 1500-block of Phoenix Street, while pushing Ryan in his wheelchair.
Later, Evan and Renee were on the back patio of their home, at around 11 p.m., unwinding from the day, when Renee noticed a flicker.
From there, everything moved at lightning speed, while also feeling like it was happening a snail’s pace, she said.
Suddenly, the entire house was on fire, the flames growing fiercer with every passing second. Evan grabbed the hose from the backyard and brought it out front to attempt to extinguish the fire, using his previous skills as an industrial firefighter to aid him.
“It’s called boundary cooling, so I was just trying to cool the exterior of the house to prevent it from spreading more… Then I ran back inside and I grabbed a fire extinguisher,” Evan explained.
This allowed him a few moments to run inside and get his older brother out.
The spreading of the fire was too fast for Evan to put Ryan in his chair, so instead, he ran out of their home with Ryan in his arms.
“I was so scared for their lives,” the boys’ mother said.
Eventually, they both made it out unharmed. By the time Evan and Ryan were out of the house, the property was engulfed in flames once again.
A neighbour saw the fire from his home across the street and ran out, with a fire extinguisher in tow and attempted to smother the flames, but was unsuccessful.
“We could hear the firetrucks coming down and they were maybe 30 seconds or a minute away but it felt like an eternity,” Evan remembered.
White Rock fire crews were quick to respond and were able to successfully put out the fire, but the building was too badly damaged to be spared.
The only items the firefighters recovered the day after the fire were some food items and a couple pieces of clothing that the Ricards later had to throw out because the smoke residue was too strong.
Family pictures, items with sentimental value and Ryan’s equipment are the only things the family hopes to recover. Everything else has endured too much smoke damage to be salvaged, they said.
Ryan’s van — with a lift — was completely damaged in the fire, which is one of the first items the Ricard’s need to replace.
“The van had problems and we never had the time or money to fix it but now it’s totally burned,” Renee said.
“We really need that lift because (Ryan’s) back is starting to suffer. I can’t let the caregivers pick him up like that because it’s a liability, it’s not safe.”
The aftermath of the fire has left the Ricards playing the ‘What-if?’ game.
What if Evan hadn’t opened the window to his bedroom, maybe the fire would have remained outside? What if the whole family had been sleeping when the fire started? What if they had remembered to renew their renters’ insurance? What if Evan’s daughter had been home that night, like she usually would have been?
After the night of the fire, the Ricards relied on emergency services to house them, which has now ended, leaving the family to bounce around temporary housing-units across the Lower Mainland.
Both Renee and Evan had their jobs affected after the fire, with Evan — a construction worker — having to cancel two large contract-jobs because his tools are still in the home.
“I would shower and I could feel this grit on me for the first two or three days. It was all I could feel and breathe and see and I think part of that is mental. It just feels like it never leaves you,” Renee recalled.
Another question remains: How did the fire start?
The investigation of the fire has ended and a cause has not been determined; all that is known is that the fire started outdoors.
“When you lose everything, it would be nice to have a reason why,” Renee said.
She has been actively searching for a home in Surrey or White Rock to rent, but finding someplace is proving to be an issue.
Even though all of Ryan’s necessary equipment is removable, many renters have told Renee that they do not want to rent to her family because of the accommodations Ryan needs, which she said she understands.
Encouraged by neighbours who wanted to help, the Ricard family have a GoFundMe page for anyone interested in donating.