Winlaw renters lose all in devastating house fire

·3 min read

A Winlaw family is trying to put back together the pieces of their life after a house fire levelled the home they were renting last month.

“I’m trying to be optimistic,” says Esmeralda Nadeau-Jasso. “But when you’ve lost everything it’s hard to be.”

Nadeau-Jasso and her partner, Felix Bilodeau, were away from their rental house in Winlaw the afternoon of February 24 when the fire broke out. RDCK officials say the Winlaw Volunteer Fire Department received a call at about 1:50 pm, reporting heavy smoke coming from a residence.

Because of the size of the fire, more than 20 firefighters responded from the Winlaw, Passmore and Slocan departments, and were able to save at least one other building, as well as some vehicles and farm equipment on the property.

“Crews worked hard and overcame adverse weather conditions and difficult fire behavior,” said Kynan O’Rourke, the RDCK regional deputy fire chief - operations. “Minor injuries occurred involving icy conditions and firefighter slips.”

O’Rourke says an investigation has been completed, but the cause of the fire hasn’t been determined.

Nadeau-Jasso says her family lost everything in the fire. They moved to the Winlaw rental a year ago, and brought her work inventory with them – art supplies, circus costumes, and tools for wood-working, felting, silversmithing, and makeup kits. Much of their furniture and children’s toys were also hand-made and irreplaceable.

“Basically everything is gone. My beautiful book collection, my antiques. None of my antique furniture, things I found in garage sales over years, made it. Tons of beautiful antiques, books from the 1800s, it’s pretty harsh,” she said. “My partner is a musician, and he lost all the recordings he had on his computer, his music projects. They are all gone.”

The couple didn’t have any renter’s insurance, she says.

“At the time it wasn’t in the budget, we’re artists,” she says. “I make my money doing artistic endeavours, events all around the world.

“Then COVID happened, and everything I was doing for festivals is on hold. I really regret not having renter’s insurance.”

Nadeau-Jasso says she’s just happy her family is safe, and they’re beginning to try to rebuild their lives. She says it’s going to take time to replace all her things.

“I am trying not to dwell on the loss, but more on what I have – I have one project that represents a thousand hours of work, it was in another building and safe,” she says. “We have our health, our family, and our dog – my neighbour ran in and saved her.”

A GoFundMe campaign was set up a few days after the disaster, and the response has been heartwarming – they blew past the first target of $20,000, and to date (March 8) have raised $25,000 of their new $30,000 goal.

“The support from the community’s been amazing,” she says. “I have a pretty decent network. I had a circus community in Montreal, the Burning Man community, and people in the Kootenays and Winlaw.

“People I don’t even know are willing to try to help us with what we lost.”

Now the work begins of rebuilding their lives. Finding new accommodations in the Valley will be a big enough job in itself. Nadeau-Jasso might even try to make art from the disaster.

“In coming weeks I’m going to try to make stuff from the ashes… the old burnt books, there’s some beautiful coloured burnt books there… I was thinking of making something artistic from that.”

Nadeau-Jasso and her family aren’t the only ones left homeless by the fire.

The house was split into two suites, and the second renter, another artist, also lost years of work materials and other personal items. A GoFundMe campaign has also been set up for that person. It’s raised about $7,600 of its $15,000 target.

You can donate to help the two renters by visiting gofundme.com, and searching for ‘Winlaw.’

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice