Twelve London families 'looking to tomorrow' after Tolpuddle blaze

Twelve families have been displaced from their homes indefinitely— four of them having lost everything— after a fire broke out in a downtown housing complex on Sunday night.

The home, which is operated by Tolpuddle Housing Co-op, has seen overwhelming community support since the incident, according to Tolpuddle member Jo-Dee Durrant-Phoenix - writes

“Right now we’re looking to tomorrow,” Durrant-Phoenix said. “But it gets better and better every day.”

The damage is estimated at about $800,000 according to acting deputy fire chief Jack Burt.

The cause of the fire is under investigation by the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshall.

Durrant-Phoenix said four of the homes were a “total loss” and that they will need to be completely rebuilt. However, she said they are still in the process of assessing damages and has no idea when the other units will be liveable again.

Jo-Dee Durrant-Phoenix, a member of Tolpuddle Housing Co-op has been connecting with community members who are helping the 12 displaced families by donating food, household items and clothing. She lives in the building next door and said all she saw was a “wall of smoke” Sunday night.Â(SHALU MEHTA, The London Free Press)SHALU MEHTA/THE LONDON FREE PRESS

Eva Neudorf put her one-year-old son Gavin and five-year-old son Cody to bed at about 7:30 p.m. on Sunday night. She and her boyfriend were asleep about an hour and a half later.

“Around 11:30 (p.m.) I woke up and smelled smoke,” Neudorf said. “And just through my curtains I saw something really bright, really weird, so I opened my curtains and saw that the balcony was on fire.”

Neudorf said she remembers panicking and telling her boyfriend to grab the kids. Her boyfriend closed the balcony door to stop the fire from spreading, Neudorf grabbed her cellphone and the family left everything else behind.

Now, Neudorf and her kids are living with a friend in another building that is part of the Tolpuddle co-op. She said she’s not sure how long she’ll be there.

Durrant-Phoenix said the co-op and community are trying to help find permanent housing for the four families who lost their homes completely.

The other eight homes are not as badly damaged, Durrant-Phoenix said, but she is unsure as to when those families will be able to move back in.

“We need to make sure they’re safe,” Durrant-Phoenix said. “(We) have to isolate the hydro issues and make sure everything is structurally sound.”

Residents who had nowhere to go after the fire ended up finding temporary lodging at the Canadian Red Cross.

Jennifer Ouellette, a spokesperson for the Red Cross, said the organization found shelter for four families who reached out to them.

But Durrant-Phoenix said they were only given temporary lodging for three days.

Ouellette, in an email response, said the organization’s focus is it provide “immediate short-term support” and that it will work with the families should they need more help.

“We will work with local social services to identify longer-term solutions for those who need additional support,” Ouellette said.

Ouellette also noted that some of the residents had insurance coverage and are not in need of Red Cross support.

A fence and caution tape surround the Tolpuddle Housing Co-op build on King Street that caught fire Sunday night. Residents are not sure when they’ll be able to return to their units.Â(SHALU MEHTA, The London Free Press)SHALU MEHTA/THE LONDON FREE PRESS

Almost immediately after residents fled the fire, Durrant-Phoenix said London Transit Commission sent an air-conditioned bus for them to wait in and shuttled the families that required aid to a community centre to meet with the Red Cross.

She also said London Cares was at the site by 2 a.m. with supplies like blankets and food, and Diresco— the company handling the restoration of the homes— showed up with an SUV filled with food and supplies as well.

“That’s the first time I’ve been moved to actual tears,” Durrant-Phoenix said.

When she visited the Old East Village Grocer, Durrant-Phoenix said she was comforted with a hug and an offer of support.

“They not only donated food for 24 hours, they delivered it,” Durrant-Phoenix said.

Another member of the Tolpuddle Housing Co-op started an online campaign on GoFundMe to raise money and ask community members to donate household and personal items like furniture and clothing.

As of Wednesday afternoon, donations were still rolling in and a barbecue for the co-op was organized by Diresco for Thursday.

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