BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
Police tape marks off the scene of a fatal house fire on Ross Avenue on Saturday morning.
A mother who escaped a deadly blaze at her city home is saddened by the loss of her friend, but is also counting her blessings.
She and her four children are safe and have found temporary lodging, and the community has rallied to gather clothing and donations for the family which lost everything.
"It’s amazing, all the good people that are in Brandon," Iris Meunier said during an interview on Wednesday.
Firefighters were called to Meunier’s house on the 500-block of Ross Avenue around 11 p.m. on Friday and the home was fully engulfed in flames when emergency crews arrived.
It’s now confirmed that the fire is not suspicious and was caused by a malfunctioning fluorescent lamp or fixture in the lower level of the two-floor home that Meunier rented.
Police said there were four people in the house when the fire began, but only three people made it out.
After three hours of battling the blaze, investigators were finally able to enter the home and found the body of a man on the main floor.
An autopsy was expected to be done on Tuesday, but the results weren’t immediately available.
The deceased has been identified as Harvey Cote, 32, of Saskatchewan. A funeral service is to be held on Thursday at the Cote First Nation Band Hall.
Meunier and her family offered condolences for the family and friends of the man she knew simply by his first name, Harvey. Meunier said she had known Harvey for about a year. He had family in Brandon and would visit her family when he was in town.
Two of Meunier’s daughters, Shawnee and Cherilyn, described Harvey as a nice and funny man who would play with the kids when he’d visit.
A powwow singer, Harvey would help Meunier’s daughter with her reading and shared songs and stories with the family.
"We appreciate the time that he spent making us laugh," Meunier said. "He was just a happy guy that wanted to just make people laugh and smile."
Meunier, 33, and her family came to Brandon about four years ago. The mother lived at the Ross Avenue house with her three daughters — 15-year-old Shawnee, 14-year-old Megan and 13-year-old Cherilyn — and her nine-year-old son Dreyden.
The evening of the fire, the children were sleeping over at the homes of friends.
Meunier was at the house and some of her friends, three men, had stopped by.
They were sitting upstairs when they smelled smoke and the group then ran downstairs to find the fire.
Meunier said she went into shock and has trouble remembering details of what happened.
"Everything just happened so quick for me," she said. "I think I just might have went into a panic."
"I just remember saying, ‘Oh my God, put it out.’"
Meunier next remembers running to the second floor. Her memory is fuzzy, but she said two of the men had made it outside after trying to put out the fire.
She recalls the house filling with smoke and calling for Harvey. She then escaped by jumping through the sunroom window.
She’s not sure why Harvey didn’t make it out of the house, but believes he may have been trying to fight the fire.
Meunier and her children are now starting to rebuild their lives.
They’ve found temporary shelter in a one-room apartment and their former landlord is trying to find them another home to rent.
Big Brothers and Sisters of Brandon is collecting clothing and donations. The organization has also given the children books and art supplies.
Staff at the childrens’ school, Riverheights, have offered help and are trying to secure bus passes for the kids.
Meunier’s daughters have hand-made cards to thank the people who have helped them.
Meunier would also like to track down th helpful woman who passed by the burning home.
The Good Samaritan may have been the one to call 911. She let Meunier and her friends into her car to escape the cold, took Meunier to the police station to make her statement and found shoes and a sweater for Meunier to wear.
But Meunier doesn’t know the kind woman’s name.
"I’m just really grateful to her, I feel like she’s a blessing," Meunier said.
Meanwhile, there’s a word of warning from fire officials.
Brandon Fire and Emergency Services deputy fire Chief Garry Bell said that, so far, it’s undetermined whether the burned home had working smoke detectors.
He urges city residents to ensure that their homes have working detectors that should have their batteries changed regularly.
WHAT BRANDON RESIDENTS CAN DO TO HELP
Brandon residents can do their part to help a single mom and her children who lost everything to fire.
Big Brothers and Sisters of Brandon have issued a public appeal for clothes and donations to help the family.
The response has been overwhelming since the appeal was first made on Tuesday.
"The phone’s been ringing non-stop... it’s wonderful," said Big Brothers and Sisters staff member, Bev Pretty.
All four of the children are involved in Big Brothers and Sisters programs, so it’s natural that the organization jumped to their aid.
Clothes, new or second-hand ones in good condition, is the family’s top priority at this time.
Pants or jeans in women’s sizes of three, seven and nine are desired. They’re also needed in youth Size 16 for girls, and Size 8 for a boy.
Shirts and tops in small, medium and large sizes are needed for the mom and girls while the boy wears a medium sized shirts.
School supplies and personal hygiene items are also needed.
Cash is welcome, but so are gift certificates. Gift certificates or cards help give the mom and kids a break from their troubles.
"She has three teenage daughters, and sometimes they like to go, of course, and try on clothes," Pretty said.
One man donated $100 with instructions that the family spend it on a fun activity they can share.
"He said that, if they have enough (goods or donations) coming in, he would like them to go buy pizza and that type of thing."
Furniture isn’t needed at this point.
Items and donations can be dropped off at the Big Brothers and Sisters office at 153A on 8th Street during regular office hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday through Friday.
But, Pretty stresses that staff are willing to be at the office to accept donations after hours and on weekends if donors phone ahead to make arrangements by dialing 204-727-1787.
» Brandon Sun
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 14, 2013