Months after a fire

Counselling offered to White Rock fire victims

Ocean Ridge residents have reported difficulty sleeping

Residents and business owners forced out of their White Rock building by fire are being offered free counselling to help them cope with the trauma.

“Some people may not have had an opportunity to really process it and to express and articulate what it was they experienced,” said George Passmore, counselling program manager for Sources Community Resources in White Rock. “Counselling can provide a way of processing what they experienced to a point where it really can become a memory that is no longer so distressing.”

An early-morning May 15 fire at the Ocean Ridge building in Five Corners completely destroyed some condominiums and damaged others, displacing all 100 residents and several ground-floor businesses. Crews are now working to rebuild what’s left of the structure, but construction is expected to take at least two years.

Meantime Sources is offering free counselling to anyone affected by the fire. Those who’ve taken advantage of the service have a lot in common, Passmore said.

“Certainly one thing being just how it’s thrown their lives into disarray, and certainly dealing with the uncertainty of the situation.”

Immediately following the fire, the community stepped up to help – donations of goods, services and money came forward, and temporary accommodations were offered. But in the weeks and months following, fire victims were left to sort through the multitude of changes that come with losing a home and a life’s worth of possessions. They also faced much uncertainty in insurance coverage and the future of their homes.

“We’re not meant to be in a stressful state, physiologically, for more than short bursts of time,” said Passmore. “The more that goes on, the more a person can deteriorate into chronic anxiety or even in some cases depression. And we are hearing from these folks they’re aware of other people who are having a hard time, but are kind of reluctant to reach out.”

Passmore said counsellors can help with feelings of grief and loss, and also help reclaim a sense of safety and ability to sleep – something many fire victims are reporting difficulty with.

“Many people were awoken in an alarmed state. It’s amazing how people can underestimate how strong the survival mechanisms are in our brains.”

Anyone can benefit from counselling, but the perception remains for some that seeking help suggests an inability to cope with life.

“We go to the dentist for crying out loud. We all know how to take care of our teeth. But something as non-complex as enamel on teeth, we go in and get it looked at,” said Passmore. “The mind is the most complex thing we have to take care of.”

Around 5:30 a.m. on May 15 residents were evacuated from the four-storey Ocean Ridge building, at 15210 Pacific Ave., after a fire spread from a neighbouring construction site. Residents – many in pajamas and carrying few if any belongings – were transported by bus to Centennial Arena before temporary accommodations were arranged.

Investigators have determined the fire was deliberately set, but police haven’t announced any arrests.

Anyone affected by the fire can take advantage of the free counselling service by calling Sources at 604-538-2522.

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