Winnipeg family of 8 slowly picking up the pieces after devastating fire
Everyday at 5 a.m. Leanne Carreon and Tony LaForrest wake up and remember how close they and their six children came to facing death.
It was around that time on Aug. 26 when the couple was jolted awake by two of their children. The apartment next to them was on fire.
“I yelled at Tony that our neighbour’s unit was on fire and that’s when we got up and we thought ‘OK this is for real now, this is not a drill’,” Carreon recalled.
The family of eight lived on the third floor of the Southdale apartment complex that went up in flames last month.
They only had a few minutes to get out with all of their children, who range in age from two months to 17-years old.
The blaze tore through two adjoining buildings on Beaverhill Boulevard near Fermor Avenue, gutting all the units on the third floor and causing the roof to collapse.
Tenants in 24 suites were left homeless.
Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service said it was miracle no one was hurt.
“We all could have died. We wouldn’t have made it had it not been for the two younger ones waking us up that morning,” Carreon said.
The couple watched as the fire destroyed their home of three years. They didn’t have tenant insurance and lost everything, including family mementos and Carreon’s engagement ring.
“I never knew that someone else’s negligence could just rip everything from me,” LaForrest explained. “I can’t even put a price tag on the sentimental stuff and the value.”
The family now lives in a different unit in the same apartment complex, just a few feet away from the destruction.
“I didn’t want to come back here, but we didn’t have insurance, we had nowhere to go,” LaForrest said. “We drive past this almost everyday. I try to avoid it,” LaForrest said. “We can smell all the burnt debris and it brings me back to that night almost on a daily.”
LaForrest said one of the main reasons they decided to stay within the complex was to keep their children’s routines the same.
WATCH: Winnipeg firefighters battle blaze at apartment complex
A family member started a Go Fund Me page to help them get back on their feet.
“It helped us rebuild a lot of the things that we needed. Things you wouldn’t think of, like, you know, their clothes, their underwear, shoes, their school bags, cutlery, dishes,” said Carreon.
The couple said the community really helped them out too, and while they are thankful for all the generosity, the new apartment still doesn’t feel like home.
“Everything that we’ve worked for, everything that we’ve collected, anything sentimental is gone. Like how is anybody supposed to move on from that?”
The family was allowed one hour to go back into their old apartment to salvage what they could, but there wasn’t much to be found within the rubble.
Carreon said she broke down multiple times during the retrieval.
“We were told nothing was salvageable, that it was done,” Carreon explained. “We threw everything out of the way, we grabbed as much as we could, and we actually got quite a bit of photos. But every now and again we would break down, we would go into the next room and break down.”
But even with a new roof over their heads, the effects of that night still linger.
“The kids are scared to sleep in their bedroom. They want to sleep in the living room in case the fire alarm goes off,” Carreon said.
In addition to getting tenant insurance, the couple is also taking other precautions.
“The fire commissioners, we had them come out just to see if all the protocols are correct,” LaForrest said. “We just wanted to make sure and have them come for our peace of mind.”
Even though the family of eight is starting from scratch, Carreon and LaForrest said the generosity of the community helped them get through their darkest days.
Fire officials still don’t know what sparked the blaze and said the cause remains under investigation.
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