Carp father, son rebuilding after fire

By Jake Davies - West Carleton Online

CARP – It has been one heck of a week for Patrick Rupert and his young son Hunter, which started March 5 with a frantic escape from his burning home in downtown Carp.

That evening Rupert, 27, had just finished dinner, put his young son to bed, and was on a video call with an east coast friend. Moments later, his and Hunter’s life would be flipped upside-down.

“Basically, I’d been home since about 5 p.m.” Rupert told West Carleton Online from the Huntley Community Centre today (March 13), where he was greeting people who were donating items to the family. “We had some dinner, hanging out, giving him a bath, putting him to bed, that sort of thing. Then basically around 9:30 p.m.-ish I was on the phone with my friend from New Brunswick, having a video call, my son had just been put to bed, I started to hear some commotion upstairs. I didn’t really think too much of it, maybe someone was coming to visit.”

A house on fire.
A March 5 fire destroyed Patrick and Hunter’s home as well as their neighbour’s in the upstairs unit. Courtesy the OFS

Rupert and his son lived in the basement apartment of the two-unit home. A single mom of three lived above.

“Then I hear a little bit more yelling, screaming, a bit more panic in their voices,” Rupert said. “Windows smashing out. So, I look at my security camera and see that whole porch is shooting flames. I thought, my house is on fire. I put my phones in my pocket, go to my son’s room. Peel off his blankets, he was butt naked, so I got him clothes real quick and wrapped him back up in the blanket, grabbed my girlfriend’s dog by the collar. I tried pulling him up the stairs, while carrying my son. The bystander that was there and basically saved our entire lives, alerting everyone knocking on the doors, managed to smash out the window right in front of us as we were coming up the stairs. The dog slipped his collar and ran back to my bedroom. I continued to exit with my son. I looked to the right and saw the top unit was on fire. Went out the back door, brought my son to the upstairs tenant and her family, who were all in the backyard. I handed off my son Hunter and went to the door yelling for the dog to come up. The dog didn’t come, so I went down in to it to retrieve the dog. Fought with my girlfriend’s dog under my bed. Grabbed the dog, picked him and carried him out.”

Although they were all out of the house, the backyard was small and still pretty close to the fire. There was a fence between them and the neighbour, but the neighbour was able to find a path in to the neighbouring yard and guided the two families there.

“We got shuffled in to Ridge Rock (across the street),” Rupert said. “And they housed us from the time we needed all the way to about 1:45 a.m.”

While that was the most intense moment for Rupert and his son, life hasn’t got much easier since. While his unit wasn’t directly impacted by the flames, the firefighting, smoke and water destroyed everything but the few items he was able to escape with.

“We lost everything,” Rupert said. “It was mostly all water damage from the fire department putting out the fire. Being a basement unit, where is the water going to go? Down. Then it built up. I was able to go in to the unit after the fire with the fire investigator. He gave me a Tyvek suit. I was able to wade through the three-and-a-half feet of water in the unit, collect some of the very valuable things such as birth certificates, passports. I was able to get those because I leave them in a Ziploc bag in the top drawer. I was able to recover my son’s teddy bear that he has a super attachment to and goes everywhere with. I was able to recover his inhaler (smoke from last summer’s forest fires caused Hunter some respiratory issues). That’s all that’s been recovered so far. Everything else was underwater until I got told three days ago it is no longer underwater.”

Rupert has spent the last 10 years in the towing industry and is relatively new to the Carp area. He says, if he lived in the urban part of Ottawa, he might not have even reacted to the yelling and screaming he heard outside before the fire. Now, he is also learning about the kindness of the Carp community.

Immediately following the fire, several community members and friends reached out to see how they could help. A gofundme page was set up for both families. Today (March 13), the Huntley Community Association gave Rupert a space to store stuff until he is able to find a new home (currently Rupert and Hunter are staying in a hotel).

While it may seem odd to need storage space when you have no stuff, that too was quickly changing. A hastily thrown together fundraising effort was bearing fruit this mild winter day. Late last night, Rupert said he would be at the Huntley Community Centre accepting donations of household goods, and community members were already dropping by with donations of chairs, tables, a dog fence, toys and clothes, and even money.

During our interview, more than a few people dropped by to give what they could. The locker room was slowly filling up.

“It’s been very overwhelming with all the community coming together for us,” Rupert said. “Not just us, but even the upper unit. So many people are asking about her, making sure they’re okay. The community, just in the two hours we’ve been here, we have almost everything we need. There’s still quite a bit that we need out there, once I find a new place, it will be easier to figure out what I need. The way the community has come together in such a short time, with some people going out of their way and even buying brand new things for us.”

A friend of his girlfriend’s dropped by with new work boots and reflective clothing which will allow Rupert to keep working safely. Some have dropped off new toys and clothes for Hunter.

“Cards for Tim Hortons, McDonalds,” Rupert said. “A lot of the help financially I received through the gofundme page came has been through the towing community. Normally on an everyday, we’re competition. Different towing companies. But when a towing brother has something traumatic or devastating happen to them, the community comes together. Just to see all these different communities come together, not just the community of Carp, not just Huntley, not just towing, but reaching to all these little communities I never would have thought would be a part of all this to help. The way it’s been today, is just incredible. It’s incredibly moving. I’m at a loss of words on how to thank people. Thank you doesn’t seem enough right now. I Just lost everything in life, and you are helping me get back on my feet when you don’t have to.”

Rupert says he doesn’t have a lot of contact with his neighbour (even their entrances were in different spots of the building) but can reach her through her mom.

“Her mother did invite Hunter, Sidney (Rupert’s girlfriend) and I over for dinner when things settle down,” he said. “To be able to see each other and have something normal for those tenants to come together over, once time goes by.”

Rupert will return to the Huntley Community Centre (108 Juanita St.) Thursday, March 21 to accept more donations. For more information on that, and a list (current as of today) of his needs, click here.

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