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House fire claims life of local woman
The Osoyoos woman rescued in a horrific house fire last Friday morning died in hospital in Vancouver over the weekend.
Deleyne Ruth Hebert Hunter, 52, and her common law husband, Sheldon Hall, were rushed to hospital with severe burns after fire engulfed their duplex in Osoyoos Friday morning.
This is believed to be the first fatality from a fire in the Town of Osoyoos in more than 20 years, said Osoyoos Volunteer Fire Department Chief Rick Jones.
“I know of only a couple (fatalities caused by fire in Osoyoos) and the last one was when I was a very young firefighter back in the late 1980s,” he said. “It has been a very long time.”
Hunter is survived by her father Henry Hebert and her three sisters.
An obituary forwarded by her family to the Osoyoos Times said Hunter possessed “a zest for life and contagious smile and will forever live on in our hearts.”
Anyone wishing to join the family in a celebration of her life is invited to come on Saturday at 1 p.m. to The Owl Pub.
Several fire trucks and more than a dozen members of the Osoyoos Volunteer Fire Department were on the scene within minutes around 9 a.m. as flames and smoke could be seen rising from a structure located at the corner of 87th Street and 92nd Avenue in the north end of town.
Jones said a dozen volunteer firefighters responded to the 9-1-1 call immediately and did an incredible job bringing the fire under control as quickly as possible.
“They knocked it down in a real hurry,” he said. “That was just about a textbook job. They did an excellent job and managed to prevent the other side of the duplex from catching on fire.”
The town has a policy that offers grief counselling to volunteer firefighters after an incident where someone is seriously hurt or is killed during a fire, said Jones.
“They have a system where our people can talk to someone if they need to and it’s strictly confidential,” he said. “We have had this service in place for some time now.”
A preliminary investigation of the scene over the weekend by his department and investigators with the Fire Commissioner’s office confirmed the fire was accidental and started in the living room, said Jones.
“It appears to have been caused by a cigarette or a faulty electrical power bar,” he said. “That hasn’t been confirmed, but we do know it was just one of those tragic accidents.”
From talking to neighbours and friends of Hunter and Hall, it appears Hall was sleeping in the bedroom and noticed black smoke and ran to the living room and grabbed Hunter and dragged her outside as quickly as possible, said Jones.
When fire crews arrived, they pulled the couple away from the residence and waited for ambulance services to arrive.
There was a delay in the response of BC Ambulance Service because the Osoyoos paramedics were out of the area on another call, said Jones.
“They had to bring another one (ambulance) in from out of town and it took them a little while to get to the scene,” he said.
The unit where the couple lived appeared to be completely gutted as a result of the fire.
Hall was wearing only his underwear when he escaped the residence, but several neighbours quickly covered him in blankets until paramedics arrived in an ambulance around 9:20 a.m.
He was able to speak to an RCMP officer and several of his friends and neighbours and was coherent, despite suffering what appeared to be burns over much of his body.
At one point, Hall asked to be brought closer to Hunter to try and comfort her while she was being comforted by several other friends .
Hunter and Hall were rushed to the South Okanagan General Hospital in Oliver.
Both were brought by air ambulance to hospital in Kelowna and Hunter was then flown to the burn unit at a hospital in Vancouver.
Osoyoos RCMP say Hall is currently in stable but serious condition at the Vancouver General Hospital Burn Unit. Hall sustained serious burns to approximately 35 per cent of his body from the fire.
Neighbour Ed Scheer, who has lived in the adjacent home on 92 Avenue for the past 35 years, said he knew Hunter and Hall very well.
“I can’t believe it happened,” he said. “I heard the fire trucks and all the loud noise, but I didn’t know there was a fire next door until I stepped outside my house.
“I was even told several firefighters had knocked on my door, but I didn’t hear a thing until I stepped outside. I’m just glad they both got out.”
The volunteer firefighters performed admirably and quickly in extinguishing the blaze and preventing the towering flames from spreading towards his property and house, said Scheer.
“They did a terrific job,” he said. “I don’t have any damage to my house. My truck is covered in foam, but I don’t think there’s any fire damage.”
The BC Coroners Service, RCMP and Osoyoos fire department continue to investigate this death.