Children jump from second floor to escape Victoria house fire

Three young girls jumped from a second story window of their burning home in Fernwood early Wednesday – police suspect it was arson – and were grabbed by their father and a neighbour.

All the girls – aged five, seven and 11 – got out safely, but the 11-year-old went to hospital for stitches after cutting her arm when she landed on rock broken glass.

Their father is Yuriy Vyshnevskyy, pastor of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church, which is next door to the family home.

The injured girl lost a lot of blood and her wounds were initially considered life-threatening, Vyshnevskyy said, but the injury turned out to be limited to soft tissue damage.

Victoria Police said the fire at the wooden heritage house, near the corner of Cook Street and Caledonia Avenue, was an arson attack.

Vyshnevskyy believes his family was targeted. He is convinced that the fire was deliberately started around the porch. There was a smell of gasoline, which he thinks is the accelerator.

He and his wife are trying to “figure out” what happened, how it happened and who did it, he said.

“Who would want to burn down a family with children while they sleep?”

When asked if the fire was somehow related to the war in Ukraine, he said he didn’t want to think that way.

He said he received no threats because of the war or anything else. “Nothing,” he said. “It was a shock.”

The house, where the family has lived for about six years, serves as the parish rectory of the church. Although the house was badly damaged, the church was not affected. The house on the other side was also unscathed.

Vyshnevskyy said he was a heavy sleeper, but his wife was awakened by a noise around 1 a.m. before realizing there was a fire.

At first he tried to douse it with water, but “it was spreading too fast,” Vyshnevskyy said.

He ran out the back door and then realized that his wife and children were on the second floor, with the fire under the stairs.

Black smoke filled the house, Vyshnevskyy said. “You could barely see what was going on.”

His wife and children went to a window, Vyshnevskyy waiting below, joined at that moment by a neighbor across the street.

The five- and seven-year-old was caught easily when she jumped, but it was a bit more difficult with the eldest and she got injured, Vyshnevskyy said.

At that time, the Victoria Fire Department was on the scene and used a ladder to pull Vyshnevskyy’s wife out.

Acting Fire Chief Dan Atkinson said crews found “intense fire conditions” at the front of the house when they arrived. Police said the main entrance was completely engulfed in flames.

Atkinson said the woman was hanging from a window with smoke billowing above her head.

“We were able to rescue her and she was able to provide us with information that everyone else in the house had escaped.”

Vyshnevskyy said he was extremely grateful that his family was safe.

“You must be grateful,” he said. “God is watching. God protects us.

“There’s no point in us focusing on anger.”

The family cat was resuscitated after being found showing no signs of life. Firefighters administered oxygen with a special pet accessory that fits over the muzzle.

“We were able to save the cat, so that’s great news there,” Atkinson said. “Cat is recovering at Central Victoria Animal Hospital.”

Vyshnevskyy said the fact that his wife woke up when she did is incredible, because even a minute late could have made things much more dangerous. “I don’t want to think about what could have happened.”

On Wednesday, the family was being helped by friends and church members.

“The house will be unoccupied for a while,” Atkinson said.

Vyshnevskyy said they would look for another place to stay during the repairs.

It plans to cancel regular 9 a.m. church services until Friday, but plans to hold a service on Sunday.

Victoria Grando, director of the Ukrainian Cultural Center office, said news of the fire was “devastating”.

“It’s awful, of course,” she said. “It’s just awful.”

The news is hard to believe for the Ukrainian community and they are waiting for the police to get to the bottom of it, Grando said.

The fire diverted traffic, including BC Transit routes along Cook Street.

Detectives from the Major Crimes Unit are investigating and have asked for witnesses and any dashcams or video footage from the Cook and Caledonia area between midnight and 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Call Victoria Police at 250-995-7654 ext 1 for any information or report it anonymously to Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

A fundraising campaign is underway via CanadaHelps, with those wishing to make a donation being asked to indicate whether it is for the family or for the restoration of the heritage house. There is also a fundraiser on gofundme.com; look for the organizer Andriy Fabrikov.

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