Zoé Arsenault woke up on early Aug. 6 to a popping sound.
Somehow, she thought, the hurricane must have morphed and brought hail with it.
She rolled over and saw light was coming in her window, but it wasn’t morning.
Her phone said it was 4 a.m.
She got out of bed, opened the curtain and saw the shed in the backyard blazing.
“It was just a window of fire,” she said in an interview with Guardian on Friday.
She was able to get her parents out safely — they were met within five minutes by neighbours asking what they needed and giving them blankets — but the fire devoured the Mont-Carmel home, along with the family’s possessions.
The next day, Arsenault’s boyfriend, William Duong, started a Gofundme page, which as of Friday afternoon had surpassed $20,000.
Duong, who is still in Toronto, felt helpless so far away. Despite how well the Gofundme has gone, he doesn’t want to take any credit, he said via email.
“While I’m really happy that I was able to help at all, I don’t doubt that someone else would have stepped up.”
Another family member also set up a Credit Union account under the Wellington branch account name "Famille Arsenault Toupin" along with an email to accept e-transfers on the family’s behalf.
Arsenault had a difficult time describing what the support has meant to her and her family.
“I can’t … I can’t … I can’t believe it.”
Right place, right time
Arsenault counts her blessings frugally.
She’s thankful for the direction the wind blew, for the nurses and pharmacists who made it easy to replace her mom’s medications, for the Red Cross, who by 6 a.m. had contacted the family with accommodations at a nearby hotel.
She’s also thankful she was there.
In March, she came home from Ontario for a week to visit with her mom — who has had cancer for the past two years — and the rest of her family.
She arrived just in time to be stranded by the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic and later was laid off from her job as a flight attendant, she said.
“I wasn’t even supposed to be here and the fact that I was,” her voice quavered and trailed off. “They (my parents) wouldn’t have heard it, so this is, in a way I guess, meant to be.”
Lost past, uncertain future
There were many things lost in the fire, most of them replaceable, but many now gone forever, she said.
“The amount of musical history in that house cannot be put into words.”
They include a trove of instruments, VHS tapes of old kitchen parties, an old tune book from the 1950s her grandmother used, a concertina box from the 1800s.
Even with the loss, the family is holding up as best they can, she said.
“My mom is in good spirits, so is my dad. He’s taking it in strides. It’s a lot of being OK, being OK and suddenly super not OK.”
For now, the family is taking things one day at a time, and Arsenault remains practical with a simple next step.
“Buying a new pair of shoes.”
She ran out of the house without any.
To think too far ahead is to get ahead of themselves, but her family has called that spot home for many years and she can’t see them moving, she said.
“The land is so beautiful we would like to rebuild; to make a new spot with something simple. One barn, with everything in it.”