West Island residents come together to help fire victims get back on their feet

Neighbours have been gathering food, clothing and monetary donations while the city has put a call out for vacant apartments, hoping to help the nearly 200 people who are without a home since the fire on June 4.

2 apartment buildings affected by major fire in Dollard-des-Ormeaux

Marco Chavarria said he is touched by all the support he has received since he lost his apartment to a fire on June 4. ( Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

Marco Chavarria moved into his apartment on Brunswick Boulevard in Montreal's West Island back in March and had no intention of leaving any time soon, but a devastating fire has left it in ruins.

Now he's stuck living out of a hotel in Pointe-Claire.

"We do want to go back. We do want to live there," he said. "I loved my apartment."

Chavarria isn't the only one wishing he could return to his home in Dollard-des-Ormeaux.

A total of 87 households in two apartment buildings were affected by the fire on June 4, according to the Office municipal d'habitation de Montréal (OMHM), the city's social-housing management service.

The OMHM says 153 adults and 24 children were forced out of their homes and the Canadian Red Cross has learned that several households were not insured.

The OMHM says it has made contact with 46 households, and 28 have requested accommodations. Those people have been put up in hotels until they find a permanent place to live, it says.

"The others have relocated themselves or are staying with family or friends," the OMHM says in a statement, noting victims can apply for rental assistance.

Volunteers step up to the plate

Meanwhile, volunteers are stepping up their efforts to make sure people get back on their feet. Among them is Anastasia Assimakopoulos who lives nearby.

"It hurts me as a mom, as a neighbour,  knowing that people who essentially go to my kids' school, my friends and neighbours are going through that," she said.

That's why she started a Facebook group called Brunswick Fire Donations and Volunteers. Interest in helping quickly grew and soon the group rented out a storefront next to the building where they are accepting donations like food and clothing.

Glancing at the ruins, she said, "What do I feel when I look at that building? As much as we have made huge steps, it reminds me that there is a lot more to do."

A major fire broke out in an apartment complex in Dollard-des-Ormeaux earlier in June and 149 units had to be evacuated. The Red Cross is helping residents find places to stay. (Stéphane Grégoire/Radio-Canada)

Authorities say an investigation into what caused the fire is ongoing. Last week, Dollard-des-Ormeaux issued a statement, saying it is working with the buildings' managers, the Canadian Red Cross, the OMHM and local organizations to find long-term solutions for the victims.

The city put out a call for apartments in the area, asking people to contact officials if they have something available for rent.

A local organization, West Island Community Shares, launched a fundraising campaign, and other local groups are collecting donations as well.

"Our focus right now is helping the fire victims in any way we can," says Dollard-des-Ormeaux Mayor Alex Bottausci in a statement.

Helping parents and strangers alike

Cynthia Danquah told CBC News that she is thankful that the volunteers are there to help her parents. Her father suffers from dementia, she said, and her mother is in need of care.

She herself is a mother of two and, she said, life hasn't been easy since the fire.

"My parents cannot do anything," said Danquah. "Making sure that nobody stole their stuff, I literally slept in my car until Sunday."

Cynthia Danquah's parents lost their apartment in the fire. Along with taking care of her parents and her own two kids, she has been helping others where she can. ( Kwabena Oduro/CBC)

Despite being so busy, Danquah is among those volunteering to help not just her parents, but all the others affected by the fire.

And this is something Chavarria, stuck in a hotel with nearly everything he owned up in smoke, is grateful for.

"The people of Montreal have been amazing," he said. "I mean someone paid for this shirt, someone else from Fairview wanted to buy me a coffee and dessert."

Based on reporting by CBC's Kwabena Oduro


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