'I feel the support': Father speaks out after fire that killed toddler
Josue Lemus and his family are taking things one day at a time.
Last Thursday, a space heater sparked a devastating fire in the East Vancouver home where 10 members of their extended family were living. Lemus's daughter Elena, one of two twin sisters, was killed, and his wife Tatiana suffered serious burns.
Speaking to reporters outside Vancouver General Hospital on Monday, Lemus shared his struggle to remain strong, both for his surviving children and his wife.
"I try very, very hard when I see her in the bed not to cry to her," he said, breaking down into tears.
The family, which does not have renters’ insurance, lost everything in the blaze when it ripped through their Nootka Street rental property in the mid-afternoon. Lemus was at work, but his wife tried frantically to save their children, which is what left her with serious burns to her hands and face.
Doctors haven't said how long it will take before she's able to leave hospital.
"We're hoping it's not too long because the kids want to see their mom," Lemus said, struggling to maintain his composure.
As they grapple with their tragedy, the family said they've been comforted by the outpouring of support they've received from the community, through prayers, well-wishes, and online fundraisers that have collected more than $40,000 to help them with living and funeral costs.
"I feel the support from everybody for this situation in my family," Lemus said. "I don't have the words to say thank you to these people."
Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services has concluded its investigation into the fire, and determined an older space heater caused bedding to catch fire.
Capt. Jonathan Gormick said it doesn't appear there were smoke alarms anywhere in the house, working or otherwise.
"There was no indication of smoke alarms in the house," Gormick said.
By law, it's the responsibility of homeowners to ensure smoke detectors are installed in their properties, but upkeep of those devices is up to tenants.
CTV News tried to contact the owner of the Lemus family's rental house, Sokun "Tony" Chhuon, at his home and business over the weekend and on Monday, but he has not responded to requests for comment.
Chhuon, the longtime owner of Duffin's Donuts, hasn't spoken with the family either, according to Lemus's sister-in-law and fellow tenant, Gaby Gavidia.
"I don't want to talk about that, but no," she said while accompanying her brother-in-law outside VGH.
The Vancouver Police Department told CTV News there's no sign there was anything deliberate or criminal behind the fire, and they are not considering any charges.
Capt. Gormick encouraged anyone living in Vancouver who doesn’t have a smoke detector to call 311 and take advantage of a free giveway program offered by the city.
"One of our staff will come out, check for common home safety concerns, answer any questions and install a free, working smoke alarm," Gormick said.
With a report from CTV Vancouver's Penny Daflos