Sometimes the lesson learned travelling through a tragedy is that generosity is right around the corner.
Mitch Haffey and Megan Mottishaw watched everything they own go up in flames when a devastating house fire two weeks ago destroyed five structures, including two houses and the coachhouse they lived in over a garage.
Two weeks after the blaze – which saw the young couple escape flames in the middle of the night – they are in rebuilding mode, a process they are realizing could take months.
Fleeing as they did when Mitch woke up to see the neighbour’s garage on fire, Megan had a robe and no shoes, Mitch had pants and a sweater, and they both grabbed their phones.
And that was it.
“We lost everything,” Mitch said.
“It’s really overwhelming to think about everything that you have to do and everything that you have to replace,” Megan said.
When firefighters arrived on the scene in the early hours of July 11 after Mitch and Megan had woken up the families in both houses that burned, the resident in a basement suite, and other nearby affected residents, that’s when the reality sunk in and the sense of community was realized.
“The most humbling thing was seeing our neighbour from beside us going up our stairs, which was in flames, to make sure we were out,” Mitch said. “I caught him to say ‘we are out!’”
“Right from there the generosity started,” he added.
Mitch’s Navy training led him to always have a pair of pants with belt in the loops hanging on a chair in his room, meaning he left in a hurry but fully clothed. Megan, on the other hand, was shoeless with a robe on.
Neighbours grabbed Megan some shoes, pants, and another let her go inside the house to get changed.
“And then Safflower Crescent had a bonfire that night,” Mitch said.
Megan lost her car in the garage, Mitch had his Harley-Davidson Sportster destroyed, and they lost everything else.
Not a hero
When talking about the fire, some neighbours say both Mitch and Megan were heroes for scrambling out leaving everything behind then pounding on doors and yelling “fire” in the alley.
“You don’t know how you are going to react,” Megan said. “The reaction was to make sure everybody else was safe.”
And while the couple cringes, awkwardly discussing other people calling them heroic, they were calm, cool and collected in the chaos, and Mitch credits his military training.
As a Navy reservist, he actually contacted his coxswain to thank her for that training. He then got a call from the higher-ranking commodore from Quebec who expressed to him that the Navy is one big family.
“She gave me a Bravo Zulu, it means ‘good job’ in the Navy,” Mitch said. “She just wanted to say ‘good job for acting.’”
Sitting at the dining room table at Mitch’s brother’s house on Promontory, the couple were wearing or holding just about everything they had left. The long process of getting lives back on track is just beginning.
During a visit by The Progress, a friend came in with some mail. It was like Christmas morning. A bank card for each of them, and for Megan, her BC Services Card, and a greeting card with a $200 pre-paid Visa gift card.
The day of the fire is what they refer to as phase one of their journey back to normalcy. That meant dealing with BCAA, Service BC, the police, then ICBC.
“From there it’s just so much emotion,” Megan said. “That was kind of phase one, phase two is starting to find a place.”
And luckily they have already secured a new place.
“Now that we have found a home, the stress level drops,” Mitch said. “Phase three is kind of starting to say ‘yes’ to things.”
The generosity of friends, family and even strangers has been remarkable for the couple. Mitch works as a kinesiologist at Intuitive Rehab Services, which held a fundraiser for them. Megan is a teacher at Vedder middle school where her co-workers are organizing another fundraiser in August.
Then there is the successful GoFundMe set up for them at www.gofundme.com/help-megan-amp-mitch-fire-recovery.
Mitch said he wants to be a police officer, and in advance of that he is putting in his application for on-call firefighting in September.
“I have more drive to give back to the community,” he said.
“It’s unbelievable how we are not alone in this,” Megan adds. “There are so many people wanting to help, genuinely wanting to help. It’s an incredible feeling, it’s made this process significantly less stressful.”