Family affected by house fire looking to future
A recent house fire left the home of the Blais family in shambles, and now they are looking to rebuild their life here in St. Paul.
Normand Blais noted his family was out of town visiting relatives in Spruce Grove on the day, Jan. 5, when they got word of the fire.
“One of my nieces got hold of us in Spruce Grove, where we were visiting our granddaughter’s mother. She tracked us down and I had her hand the phone to the RCMP, talked to him, gave him our coordinates,” Blais said, adding he also spoke with St. Paul Fire Department Chief Trevor Kotowich on the phone before making the decision to head back to St. Paul.
“We got back at about 9:30 p.m. and we were at the fire until past 11 p.m. . . . We left our granddaughter and went back and got her the next day. It’s not something you want a child to see. It’s traumatic enough as an adult.”
The Blais lived in St. Paul for a decade during the 1970s and 80s, and moved back into the house at 51 Avenue and 53 Street a few years ago, following their retirement.
“When we retired, we do have relatives in the area, and we decided it’s as good a place as any to live,” Blais said. “What we liked about the house is that it’s one of the original heritage homes in the community, or it was.”
Blais added he is very thankful for the fire department and firefighters’ efforts to save some personal effects of the family, including a few paintings, a camera and some photographs. However, the fire absolutely devastated the property and left the Blais family with next to nothing.
“Basically other than the few things the firefighters hauled out, we got the clothes on our back and overnight change of clothes,” he said, noting he was back at the site to have a look around last week. “Everything is shredded or burnt. It’s amazing.”
The Blais family is currently residing at a relative’s cottage in Lac Sante, and over the course of the next year, the family will be focusing on dealing with insurance and getting their lives back together. One of the first steps in this process is to find rental accommodations in St. Paul.
“We need to find someplace in town because we have guardianship of our granddaughter, Zoe. We need to be closer to town to get her to swimming and piano, to her extracurriculars,” Blais said, adding the family hopes to find a pet-friendly property in the coming weeks.
“Our dog wasn’t there (at the fire), the dog was with us,” Normand said. “We need a place that can accommodate a dog that needs access to a yard.”
Blais’ granddaughter, Zoé, is a student at École du Sommet, and principal Karen Chalmers-Beaulieu noted that she is a “strong little one,” who has been coping with the situation maturely.
École du Sommet has been collecting clothing and other necessities for the family, and Chalmers-Beaulieu noted a wide amount of donations has come in, including winter gear, stuffed animals, boots and other clothing. The staff at Sommet also got together and purchased a couple of gift cards so that the rest of Zoé’s family could buy themselves some new clothing.
Blais added that on top of clothing and other generous donations, they have also received offers of cats, as Zoé lost her cat Harley in the fire. While he appreciates the offers, he believes that his granddaughter “needs to go through the grieving” before her cat can be replaced. Zoé is also hoping that Harley, an orange cat said to resemble Garfield, escaped the fire and is still roaming the streets of St. Paul.
“The generosity of the people in the community is absolutely overwhelming. It’s a very humbling experience, let me assure you,” Blais said. He noted the family will donate any clothes that do not fit or items which are not needed to the Mannawanis Native Friendship Centre or to the local women’s shelter.
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