British Columbia

Man urges families to check smoke alarms after mother dies in Burnaby house fire

A Vancouver-area man whose mother died in a house fire a week before Christmas is urging other families to check their smoke alarms during the holiday season.

'It doesn't take much to start a fire,' says Dennis Cheong, whose mother died Tuesday morning

Sharon Cheong, 72, is pictured at her son Dennis's wedding. She died this week in an overnight house fire in Burnaby. (Facebook/DenniS Cheong)

Christmas this year was supposed to be at Dennis Cheong's childhood home, a green house on a corner lot of a quiet street in Burnaby. 

It holds some of his best memories. 

He learned to ride a bike in the basement, pedalling back and forth so many times the tires curled up the carpet. Years later, it's where he stored motorycle parts. 

Cheong's first child is due in a couple of months. Grandma and grandpa's house was where his son would be spoiled. 

Cause of fire not yet determined

Now, the blackened windows are boarded up with plywood. Fresh flowers lie on the lawn.

A fire gutted the house Tuesday morning. Cheong's father, CK, escaped. His mother, Sharon, died.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

The house had smoke alarms, Cheong said, but he's not sure they were working.

He wants other families to set time aside during the holiday season to do one thing he believes could prevent similar tragedies: check their smoke alarms.

"It's so easy to overload a circuit. It's so easy to forget to water your live tree. It doesn't take much to start a fire," Cheong said.

"Please check your smoke detector, make sure it works. And if you don't have a smoke detector, please go get one."

Most fire-related deaths are the result of smoke inhalation. The chance of dying in a house fire could be reduced by 50 per cent if a house has a working smoke alarm, according to the B.C. government. 

Batteries should be replaced every year and smoke alarms should be replaced entirely after 10 years. 

Firefighters battle the fire that killed Sharon Cheong earlier this week. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

'All I wanted to say to her was goodbye'

Sharon and CK Cheong emigrated to B.C. from Malaysia over 40 years ago.

They moved into the Burnaby house in 1984 and raised their two sons there.

Sharon, 72, was retired after a career spent working in computer networking for an engineering company.

In 2016, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She waited to tell the family until after Dennis's wedding. After months of chemotherapy and radiation, she went into remission. 

She loved to dance and gamble, and was looking forward to meeting her newest grandchild.

"She's not going to be around for the birth of our first child together," Dennis said. "That, to me, is the one thing that I'm most upset about."

After surviving cancer, Sharon slept in a room that had an air purifier. Her husband tried to reach the room when the fire broke out, but was overcome by smoke.

Dennis Cheong's son is due in February. He said his mother was excited to meet her newest grandchild. (CBC/Martin Diotte)

Dennis said he will remember his mother as a happy woman who was proud of her sons, their careers and their families. 

"Without question, she would help. Without question, she was always there," he said. 

"All I wanted to say to her was goodbye."

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