Nova Scotia

Grieving family of 4 children dead in N.S. house fire 'overwhelmed' by support

The great-grandfather of two of the four young children who died in a weekend house fire in southwestern Nova Scotia says his family has been touched by an outpouring of support from the community.

'We are overwhelmed by the goodness and the kindness of people,' says great-grandfather of two young victims

From left to right, Mason, 7, Mya, 7, Jayla, 4 and three-month-old Winston, died in a house fire in southwestern Nova Scotia on the weekend. (Submitted by Ryan Cook)

The great-grandfather of two of the four children who died in a weekend house fire in southwestern Nova Scotia remembered one as a girl who "always has a smile on her face."

"She could come up to you and you could meet her and in two minutes' time, you would fall in love with her," said Ervin Olsen of his great-granddaughter, four-year-old Jayla.

"You'd want to take her in as your own… She wants to high five, she wants to hug you, she wants to call you by your name… You know what, we were privileged to know her. We were privileged to have her even the short amount of time we had her."

Olsen's granddaughter, Emma Kennedy, escaped the burning house, and her fiancé, fisherman Phil Prouty, remains in hospital. He suffered smoke inhalation and came out of an induced coma late Monday. 

Ervin Olsen's two great-grandchildren died in the fire in Pubnico Head. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

"My granddaughter basically walked out of the house into the hospital with her housecoat and her slippers — that's it. The house, everything was gone," Olsen said. "The worst thing that could ever happen to a mother is to lose her children.… She has lost her children."

Emma's daughter Jayla, the couple's three-month-old son, Winston, Phil's daughter Mya, 7, and his nephew, Mason, 7, died in the fire.

The medical examiner and the fire marshal continue to investigate the fire, which was reported early Sunday morning. RCMP said there was no foul play but they don't yet know the cause of the fire.

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Olsen, who lives in Yarmouth, said that amid his family's grief, people's generosity has been a bright spot. "We are overwhelmed by the goodness and the kindness of people," he said. 

Since the news of the losses spread, friends and neighbours have been stopping by Olsen's house to drop off toiletries, boots and pyjamas. Others have been offering to help with funeral expenses.

His granddaughter lost her glasses in the fire, and a local optical business has fast-tracked bringing in her prescription and donated the new pair of glasses.

Forensic identification services are working with the medical examiner and the fire marshal to determine the cause of the fire. (Emma Davie/CBC)

Jason Boudreau, a lobster fisherman from Little River Harbour, decided to donate the earnings from his next catch.

"No money in the world is going to change how they feel, but if you can take one small burden away from them that they don't have to worry about, it's something less that they don't have to think about right now."

Boudreau said the tragedy "hit close to home," as he has four boys.

"I'm sure it's hitting a lot of people. It seems like it takes something like this for people to realize how fortunate we are. You take things for granted."

Olsen was moved by Boudreau's thoughtfulness and generosity.

"That young man, he's going to be out there all day, working his butt off in who knows what kind of weather. And he's willing to do that for his friends," he said.

Jason Boudreau, who fishes lobster out of Pinkneys Point, N.S., has decided to donate all the earnings from his next catch to the family. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Olsen reached out to the Red Cross on behalf of his granddaughter and said workers "went beyond." 

"I've got an admiration for them that will be there for a long, long time," he said.

He also expressed gratitude to the first responders with showed up to the scene and to the hospital staff who treated Kennedy and Prouty

And Olsen said he wanted to thank the people who've been keeping the families affected by the fire in their thoughts. He said people's compassion has been giving him comfort and will continue to in the tough days ahead. 

"We know it's a tragedy, they know it's a tragedy and I'm sure there's lots of mothers tonight, and fathers, giving their children an extra hug … and telling them they love them before they go to sleep."

Anyone who wishes to donate money or items to the families may do so at the West Pubnico Funeral Home, Sweeny's Funeral Home or H.M. Huskilson's Funeral Homes.

The Municipality of Argyle has arranged to have all Credit Union and Royal Bank of Canada branches in Atlantic Canada accept donations for the families under the name Pubnico Fire Relief Fund. 

The municipality will also keep a list of anyone who wishes to donate items, and as the families' needs become clear, the municipality will co-ordinate distribution. Residents with items to offer can call (902) 648-2314.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Over the past 11 years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. Please send tips and feedback to elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca

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