British Columbia

Generosity of neighbours gives hope to family of 10 who lost their possessions in pre-Christmas fire

Despite losing everything except for the clothes on their back, a family of 10 in South Surrey, B.C., are grateful to be spending this holiday season together in a local hotel, after a devastating fire tore through their rented home, destroying all of their belongings, just three days before Christmas.

Clio Wu and Max-Antoine Fleurentin fled their burning rental home on Dec. 22

Laylah-Jade, 13, Gabrielle, 13, Clio Wu, Max-Antoine Fleurentin, Adam, 4, and Camille, 10, are pictured in their hotel room after losing their home in a fire on Dec. 22. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Despite losing everything except for the clothes on their backs, a family of 10 in South Surrey, B.C., is grateful to be spending this holiday season together in a local hotel.

On Dec. 22, Clio Wu, along with her husband, Max-Antoine Fleurentin, their four children, niece, Wu's parents, and Fleurentin's mom, lost everything after a fire spread from the gas fireplace in their rented home, destroying all their belongings just three days before Christmas.

According to Wu, she decided to turn on the gas fireplace overnight after a "longer than 20 hour" power outage the day before. When the electricity came back at around 11 a.m., she and her husband "noticed smoke outside of the fireplace." 

"I thought it was the fake logs inside the fireplace that were burning," Fleurentin explained later, "but I realized that the smoke was coming out of the fireplace very heavily so I decided to call the fire department."

The family was advised to immediately leave the house, Fleurentin said, and that's when he noticed a fire on the roof, about six feet from the chimney.

"At that time, I realized that probably the whole attic was in flames," he said.

By the time the family escaped, firefighters were already on scene and a few minutes later the whole roof was on fire.

Fleurentin said before everyone escaped the house, he saw flames coming from the roof six feet away from the chimney. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Wu said she didn't realize they would be losing everything even when firefighters were fighting the blaze that had engulfed the roof of their home.

"I thought we were going to go back into the house in 15 minutes," Wu said. "So we just watched the firemen do their job, still hoping to get into the house."

She said it wasn't until later that evening they realized they had "lost everything." 

"That was the saddest moment for our family," Wu said.

Wu and her family left their house with nothing but the clothes on their back. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Random act of generosity

Thanks to the generous help from the family's neighbours and the community, Wu said they started to feel hope again.

"We started to feel like, 'Oh, maybe we are going to be okay,' " Wu said.

Since the incident, the family has received boxes of donations filled with food, clothing, shoes and gift certificates to purchase what they need. Their neighbour even made them a small Christmas tree that's suitable for their hotel room so that the family, especially their youngest son, could still enjoy and celebrate together.

"He was so happy to see it. His face was worth a million dollars," Fleurentin added.

When the news of their terrifying experience and need for help spread through social media, a local realtor also offered her support by paying for their hotel stay, bringing Christmas gifts for the children, as well as helping them find another place to rent.

Despite losing their home just three days before Christmas, Wu said the family was still able to open gifts on Christmas morning thanks to the generosity of their neighbors and community. (Clio Wu/Submitted)

"You always want to be able to give back, especially at Christmas time," Michelle Harrison said. "They were so humble."

She said she wanted to pay for their stay at the hotel especially since the family of 10 would be homeless during a pandemic. 

Wu and Fleurentin said throughout the whole experience, they were reminded about what's really important in life. Although they live in a hotel room now, they are thankful to be safe and spending the holidays together.

"Your home is where you are," he said.

Fleurentin said despite the terrifying experience, they've been reminded once again what's important in life — family and being safe together. (Ben Nelms/CBC)