Karen refugees among 14 homeless after Ottawa fires

A family of eight Karen refugees from Burma were among 14 people left homeless after two separate fires early Wednesday morning, one in Centretown and the other in Orléans.

An extended family of eight Karen refugees from Burma were among 14 people left homeless after two separate fires early Wednesday morning, one in Centretown and the other in Orléans.

The most recent blaze, believed to have started just before 6 a.m. in a shed behind 226 Rochester St., forced the family and a couple living upstairs from their home. 
Fourteen people are homeless after two fires broke out early Wednesday morning in Ottawa, this one in Centretown on Rochester Street and the other in Orleans. (Submitted by Jeffrey Meyer)

All 10 tenants were being set up with hotel accommodations, and none has insurance. Messier said it was not immediately clear if the Rochester home could be salvaged. Firefighters estimated the damage at about $350,000.

Finola Shanahan lives with her partner Colin Raines on the upper level. Shanahan told CBC News she was woken up by pounding and yelling at about 5:45 a.m. She and Raines didn't have time to get their coats.

"I saw the family downstairs bringing their whole family, the baby and things onto the street," Raines said. "So I woke Finola up and we got the dog and left."

Witnesses saw flames shooting up the back of the house. 

Making donations

The Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization is organizing donations for the Karen family. They are seeking men's and women's clothing (sizes 5 to 7), clothing diapers and wipes for the four-month-old baby.

The McPhail Memorial Baptist Church has also established an account for monetary donations called "Karen family Fire Relief."

You can contact the church at 249 Bronson Avenue, Ottawa, Ont., K1R 6H6.

Jeff Meyer, who lives across the street, ran outside with his camera when he heard the sirens.

"I saw the smoke billowing out of the windows," he said. "It was just coming out everywhere."

Karen family came to Ottawa in 2009

The family — made up of two grandparents, their daughter, two sons, their sons' wives and one four-month-old baby — came to Ottawa in 2009 as refugees after their village was attacked by Burmese militia.

Ottawa is home to about 300 Karen. They fled the military regime in Burma, or Myanmar, where the Karen people make up seven per cent of the population, the largest minority ethnic group.

The eldest son has a part-time job, but all of them are ESL students studying at the nearby Adult High School on Gladstone.

The Red Cross is putting up the families in both of the building's units at the Cartier Suites Hotel — but the Karen family is also hoping to apply for emergency housing through the city of Ottawa.

Four homeless after earlier Orléans blaze

Earlier Wednesday morning, a detached home was destroyed and three people were treated for smoke inhalation after a fire broke out at 352 Mockingbird Dr. in Orléans, near Tenth Line Road.

The fire started at about 2 a.m. in the basement of the detached home, firefighters said.

One person was living in the basement while the other three lived upstairs, Messier said, and all four managed to escape.

The three people upstairs were woken by the smoke alarms. A couple sharing a room was forced to get out through a bedroom window because the smoke in the hallway was too thick.

Damage was estimated at about $400,000 and the cause is under investigation.

Residents of the neighbouring townhouse were only temporarily displaced due to damage, Messier said.