Unable to get insurance, Central Saanich family loses home to fire
By Joanne Hatherly, Times Colonist October 20, 2009
A Central Saanich family who lost their home and possessions to fire last week are in dire need of help because they were unable to insure their home, a problem that one First Nations council member says is endemic on reserves across Canada.
Brenda Morris, 47, was putting her and husband Bruce Morris's three children (ages 6, 7 and 10) to bed around 10 p.m. when she noticed smoke curling underneath the laundry room door.
"I heard her shouting," Bruce, 52, said, and then the smoke detector went off. He expected the fire to be small because he had just been in the laundry room resetting the dryer, but when he opened the door, the room was filled with black smoke and flames. He shouted for Brenda to get the kids out of the house.
Brenda found one boy had already fled. She filed the others, a daughter and son, outside and into the van. With her husband still inside, and fearing for what might happen next, she drove the van down the road until it was just out-of-sight of the blazing home.
"I sat there shaking and trying not to cry," Brenda said. "I didn't want to scare the children."
Inside the home, Bruce worried where the fire might spread next: To his truck that was parked in the driveway just outside the laundry room, and then onto his brother's trailer only a few metres away.
He raced back to his bedroom to get the truck keys and returned to find black smoke filling the house. He crouched down and found his way to the door.
"The smoke went everywhere, but the flames went to the back of the house," Bruce said, "so I was lucky. I was able to get out."
The family made it out of the house safely, but everything they owned was gone.
Yesterday, Bruce and Brenda gazed at their charred home.
"It's the memories I'm grieving. The times we had in there," said Brenda.
Bruce said, "I'm thankful that we all got out."
Central Saanich fire chief Ron French said an overheated element in the dryer was found to be the source of the fire, and the house's age contributed to its rapid spread.
"This family did everything right," French said. The house had two working smoke detectors and an extinguisher that still hangs on a blackened wall stud. The dryer was vented with metal piping.
Don Tom, council member for the Tsartlip First Nation in Brentwood Bay, where the house is located, said the Morrises were unable to get insurance for their home and will have to pay out of their own pocket to rebuild.
"It's a problem we've been trying to address," Tom said, explaining that insurance companies are leery of insuring homes on reserve land for a variety of reasons, including changes in the building code over the years. "It's a problem on reserves across Canada."
French said he has seen other homes on reserve land that could not be insured, despite the residents' wishes, in part because the houses are on federal land.
"They just keep getting roadblocks put up," French said.
Tom said the band issued a mortgage to another Tsartlip family that lost a house to fire three years ago. He said having to rebuild is a hardship to First Nations families.
The Morris family is currently staying at a Super 8 motel.
"After that, I don't know where we're gonna go," Bruce said, who at 52 wonders how he's going to make a new home for his young family.
The Tsartlip First Nations band is making arrangements to open a trust fund to help the family rebuild. Anyone interested in donating money, or goods to the family, should call the band office at 250-652-3988.
© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist
Interesting comments regarding insurance on "federal land". I lived just across the road from this Reservation as a kid and then again during my last tour of Duty in Victoria (before moving to the Malahat).
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