Donations are pouring in: money, beds, household items, furniture and a high chair for toddler Wally.
Jennifer and Tristan Stumpf are still reeling from the fire that engulfed their duplex in Colwood on December 2, destroying the kitchen, destroying all of their personal and household effects and killing their beloved dog, a spaniel named Dylan.
They had insurance for their unit, but not for their belongings, and they risk up to eight months before they can return home.
But the community is rallying behind the Stumpfs and their 16-month-old son. A GoFundMe campaign has raised nearly $15,000, and the owner of a woodworking business and a home restoration business is putting together essentials for their comeback.
Jennifer Stumpf says she was “blown away” by the response from residents of Greater Victoria. She said neighbors who didn’t have much money in December gave them grocery gift cards. A moms-for-baby club spent hundreds of dollars on clothes, shoes, bottles and toys. And a friend of a friend has pledged to provide a basement suite in mid-January at below-market rent for the young family to stay until their home is ready.
In the meantime, they are staying with Jennifer’s mother in London, Ontario.
“We’re amazed at how generous people have been with us,” Jennifer said. “Being from Ontario, we’ve always been so happy to live here, and now we really feel part of the community.
Jill Bishop of Jill of All Trades Cabinetry caught up with the couple sifting through rubble and ash in their front yard.
“It was the first time in all my years in this role that I witnessed a fire loss claim and met the owners of the home on site,” Bishop said. “Usually people who are burned from their homes live in a hotel and the catering company has people [going through the rubble].”
That’s not the case for the Stumpfs, she said.
“They were taking a break in anguish, roaming the house themselves in hopes of salvaging anything of significance,” Bishop said. “They touched my heart by telling me their story.”
Bishop spreads the word about the items the family needs and has a truck to pick things up. They need everything, she said, including money to pay for their accommodation from January until their house is repaired.
“They need furniture, clothes, appliances and anything you can think of to help bring their little boy back to life, like toys and clothes.”
The Stumpfs have lived in Greater Victoria for about eight years after going to college here and getting jobs – Jennifer as an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria and Tristan as a data analyst for Provincial Health ServicesAuthority.
Both worked mostly from home. Neither was home when an electrical fire broke out in the kitchen, “the only time of the week when someone was not physically in the house,” said the couple.
“I had finished taking Wally to daycare when I came home to start my work-from-home day,” Tristan said. “As I pulled into the driveway I was greeted by the horrible sight and smell of fire. I opened the door and tried to walk through the smoke to rescue [dog] Dylan, but it was just too thick and black.
“There was no light in the house, and all I could hear was the crackling of the fire as part of the ceiling collapsed. It was difficult to find my way. I ran a second time only to escape moments later when it was so hot my arm was burning and I was getting too dizzy.
Tristan said Colwood firefighters arrived quickly at the house and got the dog out.
“They did their best to revive him, but it was too late,” Tristan said. “It was incredibly hard.”
A pet resuscitation device that fits over the mouth was used in an attempt to save the animal, Colwood Acting Fire Chief Greg Chow said. “Some of the firefighters who were there took it a bit badly,” he said.
The spaniel was 11 years old and had recently been diagnosed with cancer, Tristan said. “We knew this was probably her last land-side Christmas, so we planned silly matching baby-dog outfits, special treats, and easy hikes for the four of us to have an adventure.”
The Stumpfs have no immediate plans to replace their dog, saying they are still processing the loss. They had bought the small duplex seven years ago in anticipation of starting a family and giving their dog “a little piece of land of his own,” Tristan said.
Jennifer said they lost everything in their house to “soot, smoke and melting”.
“The house got so hot that the refrigerator and microwave doors melted into a pool on the floor within an hour,” she said.
Tristan said they were still in disbelief. “You don’t expect your house to burn down. You don’t expect to be sifting through rubble in a bunny suit and respirator trying to find little trinkets to salvage,” he said. “You don’t expect to have such a drastically different Christmas than you had planned.
“It’s really hard to ask for help, but here we are, looking for help to rebuild our lives.”
how to help
To make a cash donation, go to the online fundraising page
To donate household items, email email@example.com