Chilliwack fire family counts its blessings

The family whose home was destroyed by fire last week is overwhelmed by the kindness they’ve been shown, and they want to pay it forward.

The family whose Rosedale home was destroyed by fire last week is overwhelmed by the kindness they’ve been shown, and they want to pay it forward.

The blaze, which tore through their two-storey home late last Sunday evening, left nothing.

But fortunately, said Vicki Sortwell, it didn’t take any lives, nor any of the pure-bred retrievers that are normally raised on the property.

Sortwell wasn’t home when the fire broke out. She had taken her son-in-law, who was enjoying a rare day off from kidney dialysis – to a movie. Paul Connelly is currently awaiting a transplant – surgery Sortwell frankly says the 31-year-old may not survive.

When they returned to the car after the movie, Sortwell checked her phone. Seeing seven missed calls from the same private number, she thought the news was good.

“I though it was the transplant coming in.”

It wasn’t.

It was the Chilliwack RCMP telling her their  home was on fire.

Warned about the extent of the damage, Sortwell was still unprepared for what she saw.

The fire was so intense, it melted the gas meter on the property and was still smoldering a day later.

But it could have been worse, Sortwell said. Had Connelly been home, he likely wouldn’t have made it out.

“There would have been a fatality.”

Their dogs, too, were safe. The Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers normally raised on the property had been moved because of Connelly’s ill health and pending kidney transplant.

As word spread about the incident, support began to pour in. It came not just from their friends and neighbours, but also the larger canine community.

Tollchester Kennels is well known in the dog world, and breeders from across North America and Europe have stepped up to help. “The dog people have been incredible,” Sortwell said.

Sortwell knows the road ahead won’t be an easy one. The family is currently looking for a place to rent while their home is rebuilt – something that could easily take a year.

But the kindness shown by so many has left her and her family humbled. They’ve established a trust fund with VanCity to help manage the support and have vowed to donate any unused funds to the Kidney Foundation.

“I just want to thank the people for their kindness,” Sortwell said, “and we want to pay it forward.”

• Donation to the trust fund can be made at VanCity, account 31-162768.