Nova Scotia

American family that lost everything in RV fire hopes to stay in Nova Scotia

Amanda Piegan and her family lost everything they own when their RV caught fire while driving the Cobequid Pass on Highway 104. The Ohio family hoped to move to Nova Scotia

The Piegans talked for years about moving to Canada; planned to tour Cape Breton, Halifax

Fire crews were called to the scene on Highway 104 just before 5 p.m. Sunday afternoon. (Andrew Simpson)

A woman from Ohio whose family lost all their earthly possessions when their RV burst into flames Sunday near the Cobequid Pass toll booths says they hope to be able to remain in Canada.

Amanda Piegan, her husband, Rick, their 15-year-old daughter, Gwen, and their siberian husky, Twila, were in an RV bound for Cape Breton when they started to smell smoke along Highway 104; almost instantly they could see smoke coming from the back of the RV.

Piegan grabbed a fire extinguisher, turned for where her daughter was sleeping and knew right away there was a problem.

'More than your basic kitchen fire'

"As soon as I put my leg toward the base of the bed it was very, very hot," she told CBC's Maritime Noon. "And within seconds it started to go up in flames."

Piegan's husband pulled the vehicle to the side of the road as quickly as possible and the family scrambled out the back with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Gwen didn't even have time to grab her shoes or glasses.

The Piegan family from Ohio are stranded in Amherst after a fire destroyed their RV yesterday on the Cobequid Pass. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

There was no sense in trying to fight the fire, said Piegan.

"I knew that this was more than your basic kitchen fire," she said. "It happened so quickly that I really thank God that my wits were about me to assess the situation and get us out very quickly."

Passersby quickly stopped to assist the family, offering water for their dog and shoes for Gwen. The local Red Cross in Amherst put the family up in a hotel and provided them vouchers for Walmart; the store opened after hours on Sunday so the family could get clothes and other basic necessities.

"It was really a show of how generous and supportive the Canadian people are," said Piegan.

The family lost everything: their passports, cash, cheques, birth certificates, Piegan's wedding band, their clothes, computers, and family keepsakes.

"We had spent the last two months and a good portion of our savings putting in and restoring this [RV] so it would be our mini little home. It was more than a house to us."

No home to return to

She doesn't know how the fire started, but before setting out her husband removed the stove and propane tanks, fearing they weren't safe for travel.

The family doesn't even have a home to go back to in Ohio; after giving notice and eventually moving out, their landlord demolished the property.

The Piegan family from Ohio lost everything they owned when their RV burst into flames en route to Cape Breton along Highway 104. (Andrew Simpson)

Now they're working the phones in hopes of finding a job for Rick and being able to stay in Canada. Gwen also needs her glasses replaced.

Always wanted to move to Canada

The family had always talked about moving to Canada.

They were attracted to being close to wilderness, wildlife and ocean. They settled on checking out Cape Breton and Halifax as possible landing spots after finding a website promoting Cape Breton as a destination for Americans who fear a Donald Trump presidency.

"For me it really was about the diversity and culture [and] getting the opportunity to share that with my family," said Piegan. "I appreciate the positive culture in Canada."

Piegan said the plan was to tour the province for several weeks, decide if they liked it and where they wanted to be, and then take the necessary steps to apply for work permits and permanent residency. She has a masters in public administration and her husband hoped to get a job in the fishery.

Trying to determine their next move

Right now, however, they're focused on trying to get their lives in order.

The family has made contact with the United States consulate in hopes to getting new documentation. With no transportation and nowhere to go, they're hoping Rick might be able to find work in the area, said Piegan. They've reached out to immigration services to see what might be possible.

"We're willing to work," she said. "We want to work."

With files from Maritime Noon

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.