Eleven members of Elatrash clan left homeless after blaze
marc bence/for metro edmonton
Mohammed Elatrash remembers racing back to his house after receiving a frantic phone call from his 17-year-old daughter, seeing the fire trucks swarm the home as flames licked the icy sky.
His family of 11, which includes seven children under 18, had instantly become homeless as smoke and flames turned their north end home to ruins during the middle the city’s deep freeze.
"It was scary for me. It made my brain go blank," he said yesterday. "I didn’t know what to think or what to say or what to do. All I could do was watch and stand there, freezing."
His daughter, Isra, had told him about the fire late Monday night moments after calling 9-1-1 and sending the children to safety in a neighbour’s house.
"I woke up and I smelled the smoke," she recalled. "Then I saw the fire and flames and we just ran. We had no shoes or anything."
Fire investigators believe an unattended candle started the blaze. The family doesn’t have home insurance and returned to the scene yesterday to realize that only a handful of personal belongings survived the fire. The small children, aged 2 to 17, have lost everything: Clothes, schoolbooks, backpacks and a laptop.
Rebecca Holland, a Red Cross disaster management coordinator, said the family has been placed in a hotel temporarily, but they are in desperate need of accommodation and clothing.
"We’ve had apartment fires that have been smaller than this family so this incident comes with its own special needs," she said. "Certainly, with the vacancy rates in Alberta, it’s going to be problematic."
The family says their first priority is to keep everyone together, but they’re not sure how. They moved to Edmonton from Gaza about a year and a half ago to enjoy Alberta’s boom and were surprised to see that families aren’t as large here.
"I didn’t feel that it was a big family until I came to Canada," Elatrash said. "This is normal for us."