Jo-Ann Heidel lost everything in a fire that destroyed her home at Cultus Lake Village on June 13, including five birds, her cat and a customized wheelchair. Friends have planned a fundraiser to help her rebuild. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

VIDEO: Cultus Lake arson victim returns to site of her destroyed home

Jo-Ann Heidel lost everything including five birds, her cat and a customized wheelchair

Jo-Ann Heidel lost everything in a devastating fire that was intentionally set at her mobile home at Cultus Lake Village on June 13.

The woman who suffered a stroke in 2016 and lost her mobility using a wheelchair to get around, returned to the site on July 3 with friends and family to see if there was anything that could be salvaged.

Her son Jacob picked through the charred remains as a friend dug around at the spot where her nightstand would have been to see if her jewelry could be found.

The home was destroyed along with her five birds, her cat and her custom wheelchair.

She made it out thanks to a neighbour who picked her up out of her wheelchair as she was struggling with a large cage and her five birds.

“Five birds and my cat didn’t make it out,” Heidel said. “It was scary. It was very scary.”

She got out with her power scooter and the clothes on her back.

Compounding the trauma is the fact that for the near quarter century she has lived in the mobile home she had insurance. In December, her insurance expired.

“I always had insurance until this year,” she said. “My insurance ran out in December and they told me they wouldn’t reinsure me because my hot water tank is more than 10 years old. I don’t have $1,500 right now for a new hot water tank.”

• RELATED: Suspicious fire guts house where man was killed

• RELATED: Pair of vacant house fires deemed suspicious in downtown Chilliwack

Immediately after the fire that destroyed not only Heidel’s home but also her neighbour’s, damaging two others, a man was arrested just after midnight on June 13. RCMP were not releasing the name of the man arrested, but Heidel knows it was “Donnie” Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is the son of her friend Carson who was living in an RV in the driveway. That RV was also destroyed.

According to Court Services Online records, 42-year-old Donald Fitzgerald appeared in front of a judicial justice at 8:18 p.m. on June 13 and he was charged with attempted murder, arson in relation to inhabited property, and arson damaging property.

On June 17, the charges were dropped by the Chilliwack Crown office, something that shocked Heidel and her friend Janice Vye. The case is still under investigation by the RCMP and some or all charges could be relaid at a later date.

Meanwhile, Vye and other friends are hoping to raise funds to help Heidel rebuild. Vye created a GoFundMe to start, but a bigger event is planned at Duke’s Country Pub.

“Jo-Ann is a very kind, giving, person who would give the shirt off her back if needed,” Vye said. “She will need to find a home that is wheelchair accessible as well as somewhere she can take her small dogs as they are her life.”

The event at Duke’s is on July 13 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 per person and includes a roast beef buffet. There will be a silent auction, 50/50 draw and a live band performing. Tickets can be purchased by calling Janice Vye at 604-378-8799.


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

Jo-Ann Heidel surveys the damage at her mobile home at Cultus Lake Village on July 3 as friends and her son try to salvage anything they can from the debris. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

Neighbours watch as firefighters put out a fire in the mobile home next door to one that burned to the ground hours earlier at Cultus Lake Village on June 13. (Jenna Hauck/The Progress)

An RV in the driveway and the neighbour’s mobile home were also destroyed in an intentionally-set fire at Jo-Ann Heidel’s site at Cultus Lake Village on June 13. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

Just Posted

BREAKING: ERT arrest wanted prolific offender in Chilliwack apartment raid

David Allen Geoghegan has a history of breaching conditions and warrants issued for his arrest

Vent du Nord comes to Harrison for Season of Performing Arts

The francophone folk group will be performing Nov. 30

Traffic snarled after dump truck overturns

A tandem dump truck overturned northbound on Lickman Road north of the… Continue reading

Chilliwack cancer survivor, speaker, published in popular Chicken Soup series

Glenda Standeven doesn’t let being an amputee bring her down

LETTER: Chilliwack should be ashamed

Everyone needs to come together to solve city’s problems, says letter writer

VIDEO: ‘Climate emergency’ is Oxford’s 2019 Word of the Year

Other words on the shortlist included ‘extinction,’ ‘climate denial’ and ‘eco-anxiety’

Algae bloom killing farmed fish on Vancouver Island’s West Coast

DFO says four Cermaq Canada salmon farms affected, fish not infectious

Three cops investigated in connection to ex-Vancouver detective’s sexual misconduct

Fisher was convicted in 2018 after pleading guilty to kissing two young women who were witnesses in a criminal case

Violence response procedures updated for B.C. schools, police

ERASE program expands to target gangs, bullying of students

SkyTrain workers vote 96.8% in favour of job action, union says

CUPE 7000’s main issues have been wages, staffing, overtime and sick leave

Federal laws at heart of West’s anger up for debate, as Liberals begin outreach

Vancouver mayor to Trudeau’s western critics: ‘Get over yourselves’

Snowboard pioneer Jake Burton Carpenter dies at 65

He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011

Teen developed ‘popcorn lung’ due to vaping: Ontario doctors

Boy went from being in perfect health to being on life support after just five months

Most Read